I had hardly heard of Lorde before her controversial decision to back out of performing in Israel, which made her seem more popular than Britney Spears in her better days. I vaguely recall that famous song of hers, “Royals.” Thanks to BDS, this one-hit wonder has achieved even more international fame I never knew she had.
My social media newsfeed was filled with posts expressing outrage over her decision, competing with outrage over antisemitic protests in Berlin and over that bozo who went on an antisemitic rant outside a kosher Berlin restaurant.
Lorde gave the Jewish world a new, tangible crusade to fight in predictable steps: (1) Get the artist to change his/her mind; (2) If unsuccessful, excoriate artist in question as an ignoramus at best, a bigot at worst; (3) Wail about how the world still hasn’t learned from the Holocaust; (4) Invest more funds into fighting BDS, which is exactly what the Israeli government has done to the tune of over $70 million.
BDS is now a multimillion-dollar industry.
Contractual obligations aside, Lorde has every right to play wherever she wants. And true, she has taken a misguided decision, pressured by the antisemites who constitute the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, particularly when she’ll continue to perform in Russia, despite its abysmal human rights record. Concede: BDS won this battle.
And so what? Having this or that artist perform in Israel is not an existential threat. Having this or that artist perform in Israel doesn’t truly make a difference to Israelis’ quality of life. Having this or that artist perform in Israel doesn’t remove rockets that are still aimed at Israel. Having this or that artist perform in Israel doesn’t erase the Israel-hatred in Palestinian textbooks that Israel could ban if only it had the courage.
But now the government can pat itself on the back for “courageously” barring BDS-affiliated international organizations from the country, all the while supporting the source of BDS in its own backyard. BDS is merely an outgrowth of the greater problem: the antisemitism endemic to the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian Authority, which produces the most vile antisemitic propaganda and personalities since the Nazi era, is still technically supported and kept alive by Israel. The Jewish world still grants violence-laden Palestinian society “legitimate” nationalistic aspirations, which feed BDS.
About a week after the Lorde hoopla, my newsfeed was filled with a more amusing but, to me, more disturbing antisemitic incident. In Ramallah, where it is illegal for Israeli Jews to enter, a sign at a shoe store asked British and American visitors, in frighteningly poor English, to apologize for the Balfour Declaration and US President Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. No petitions were drawn up to make the store take that sign down, which was probably located on a street named after a terrorist. Antisemitism is taken for granted and overlooked when it rears its ugly head right outside Jerusalem – but not in Hollywood.
Unlike the boycott against Israelis in Ramallah, celebrity boycotts affect the prestige and image of Israel and, by extension, the prestige and image of those who fight against BDS. Lorde’s mistake has elicited “heroic” comments from MKs and even a full-page ad in The Washington Post taken out by Shmuley Boteach’s Jewish Values Network. I wish such resources were instead used to advocate for dismantling arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat’s glorious mausoleum in Ramallah and scattering his ashes into the Mediterranean.
Fighting cultural BDS is an ideologically safe and, nowadays, profitable cause, offering glittery platforms for career activists as well as tax-deductible donations for well-meaning Zionist philanthropists. BDS is the centrist’s paradise, absolving its opponents from taking braver positions, such as opposition to the “two-state solution,” that would put them at risk of being labeled “rightwing” or “extremist.”
Note, for example, the Creative Community for Peace’s praiseworthy appeal to Lorde. Entertainment industry executives urged her not to fall into the trap of the deceptive, hateful BDS movement. They were sure to add that “The boycott movement has come out as a strong opponent of real dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, even going so far as to denounce projects that work to bring young Israelis and Palestinians together through music.” (This appeal was followed by a different letter from over 100 artists supporting Lorde’s decision.)
As the CCP appeal points out, BDS employs the language of black and white – but that’s what makes it effective. There is a good guy (“Palestine”) and a bad guy (Israel). Calls for “dialogue” only equalize Israeli and Palestinian grievances to the same moral level when, anyway, real dialogue is outlawed by the sacred PA. Ironically, Lorde would not even be welcome to perform in Muslim-dominated Palestinian cities.
MOST ISRAELIS do not care about BDS. Most have probably never even heard of it. It is largely an American phenomenon that provides a salve to American Jewish souls who long to do something to ensure “Never Again” but who are wary of publicly taking the politically incorrect stance that will truly kill BDS: delegitimizing the Palestinian cause. To fight fire with hotter fire, instead of with an olive branch.
Most Israelis are more concerned with just getting by; with finishing army service or school; with handling difficult employers who squeeze them for every single hour at minimal pay; with handling unnecessarily difficult customer service in almost every industry. As I reported in my recent Jerusalem Post Magazine cover story “Milking Israelis for what they’re worth: How did Israel get so expensive?” (December 8), Israel’s tariffs, regulations, cartel system and monopoly protection probably rob the Israeli people far more than BDS successes ever will. But these frustrations do not lead to cathartic, click-bait, Hollywood headlines.
Lorde is not the first artist to boycott Israel and she certainly won’t be the last. Probably the most effective campaign would have come from Lorde’s Israeli fan club, those tangibly affected by her decision. But they’re too busy getting through the month in an economically oppressive system to have the time. They don’t have Zionist donors funding their lives.
In the meantime, I might have to stream a Lorde album to find out what the fuss is about.
The writer is an Israeli-American journalist and author based in Berlin. Her latest novel, Underskin, is a modern German- Israeli love story.