Artists call­ing the tune on Is­rael

Lorde’s de­ci­sion to can­cel con­cert draws at­ten­tion to what can be a thorny is­sue for world’s mu­si­cians

The New Zealand Herald - - NEWS - Lisa Bonos

In Is­rael, even con­certs are po­lit­i­cal. For in­ter­na­tional su­per­stars, de­cid­ing whether or not to show up might im­ply what side you’re on: Is­rael’s or the Pales­tini­ans’. And this week, the singer Lorde be­came the lat­est mu­si­cian to can­cel a per­for­mance in Tel Aviv af­ter fans pres­sured her to do so.

Last week, two of Lorde’s fans in New Zealand — one of them Jew­ish and the other Pales­tinian — pub­lished an open let­ter to the Grammy-award­win­ning singer, ask­ing her to can­cel the per­for­mance planned for June 5, 2018. It cited “the Is­raeli Gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies of op­pres­sion” and “apartheid”, and said that “we be­lieve that an eco­nomic, in­tel­lec­tual and artis­tic boy­cott is an ef­fec­tive way of speak­ing out against these crimes”. The let­ter added that “play­ing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giv­ing sup­port to the poli­cies of the Is­raeli Gov­ern­ment, even if you make no com­ment on the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion”.

The let­ter did not specif­i­cally men­tion the boy­cott, divest­ment and sanc­tions — or BDS — move­ment, but the views ex­pressed within it are in line with that Pales­tinian-led cam­paign.

Since 2005, the BDS move­ment has urged aca­demic and gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions, com­pa­nies, mu­si­cians and oth­ers to avoid vis­it­ing Is­rael and buy­ing its prod­ucts with the goal of get­ting Is­rael to end its oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and al­low Pales­tini­ans to re­turn to places they left when Is­rael was cre­ated in 1948.

At first Lorde re­sponded to the let­ter by say­ing she would re­con­sider the con­cert date, and by Mon­day, she said in a state­ment, “I’ve re­ceived an over­whelm­ing num­ber of mes­sages and let­ters and have had a lot of dis­cus­sions with peo­ple hold­ing many views, and I think the right de­ci­sion at this time is to can­cel the show.”

In re­cent years, sev­eral artists have can­celled tour dates in Is­rael, ei­ther for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons or be­cause of on­go­ing vi­o­lence. In 2010, the Pix­ies de­cided not to per­form af­ter the Is­raeli mil­i­tary raided a Turk­ish ship bring­ing aid for the Gaza Strip, an op­er­a­tion that killed nine peo­ple. (The band played in Is­rael in 2014.)

Elvis Costello also can­celled two shows in Is­rael in 2010, say­ing that “some­times si­lence in mu­sic is bet­ter than adding to the static”.

In 2014, when Is­rael was in a 50-day war with the Ha­mas-gov­erned Gaza, sev­eral artists — in­clud­ing Lana Del Rey, Neil Young and the Back­street Boys — post­poned or can­celled shows.

For as many artists who can­cel shows in Is­rael, there are oth­ers who face crit­i­cism and still press on with their tour dates.

Since the BDS effort started, Ri­hanna, Ali­cia Keys, Madonna, Bob Dy­lan, Leonard Co­hen, Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers all kept their con­cert dates in Is­rael de­spite pub­lic pres­sure to can­cel them.

Once on stage, these megas­tars some­times use their mi­cro­phones for more than their lyrics. For ex­am­ple, dur­ing a 2012 per­for­mance in Tel Aviv, Madonna, who isn’t Jew­ish but fol­lows the Jew­ish mys­ti­cal prac­tice of Kab­balah, wrapped her­self in an Is­raeli flag and made a plea to rise above ego, re­li­gion and na­tional al­le­giance to forge peace in the Mid­dle East. “You can’t be a fan of mine and not want peace in the world,” she said.

Some artists keep their shows in or­der to make a state­ment crit­i­cal of Is­rael. In 2006, Pink Floyd’s Roger Wa­ters moved a per­for­mance from Tel Aviv to a vil­lage jointly formed by Arabs and Is­raelis. On that trip, Wa­ters trav­elled through­out the West Bank and to the wall sep­a­rat­ing it from Is­rael, which he tagged with graf­fiti of his song lyrics: “We don’t need no thought con­trol.”

Wa­ters has since urged other artists not to per­form in Is­rael. In a 2016 in­ter­view with the In­de­pen­dent, he said that the mu­sic in­dus­try “has been par­tic­u­larly re­cal­ci­trant in even rais­ing a voice” against Is­rael. “I’m hop­ing to en­cour­age some of them to stop be­ing fright­ened and to stand up and be counted, be­cause we need them,” Wa­ters added.

Wa­ters and mu­si­cian and pro­ducer Brian Eno got into a war of words last month with Aus­tralian rocker Nick Cave over Cave’s de­ci­sion to play in Is­rael.

Cave told a press con­fer­ence that any­one who played in Is­rael “have to go through a sort of pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion from Roger Wa­ters and co”. He said his de­ci­sion to play two con­certs in Tel Aviv was to make a stand against peo­ple try­ing “to bully mu­si­cians, to cen­sor mu­si­cians, and to si­lence mu­si­cians”.

In re­sponse, Wa­ters wrote: “Nick thinks this is about cen­sor­ship of his mu­sic? What? Nick, with all due re­spect, your mu­sic is ir­rel­e­vant to this is­sue. So is mine, so is Brian Eno’s, so is Beethoven’s. This isn’t about mu­sic — it's about hu­man rights.” He added,

Nick thinks this is about cen­sor­ship of his mu­sic? What? Nick, with all due re­spect, your mu­sic is ir­rel­e­vant to this is­sue. So is mine, so is Brian Eno’s, so is Beethoven’s. This isn’t about mu­sic — it's about hu­man rights. Roger Wa­ters on Nick Cave’s de­ci­sion to play in Tel Aviv last month

“We hurl our glasses into the fire of your ar­ro­gant un­con­cern, and smash our bracelets on the rock of your im­pla­ca­ble in­dif­fer­ence.”

In re­sponse to Cave's com­ments on at­tempts at “si­lenc­ing” artists, Eno said they were “rather grat­ing when used in a con­text where a few mil­lion peo­ple are per­ma­nently and grotesquel­y si­lenced”. “Is­rael spends hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars on has­bara, and its side of the ar­gu­ment gets broad­cast loud and clear. Cou­pled with the scare-tac­tic of la­belling any form of crit­i­cism of Is­raeli pol­icy as ‘an­ti­semitic’, this makes for a very un­even pic­ture of what is go­ing on.”

Has­bara, the Jerusalem Post writes, lit­er­ally means “ex­pla­na­tion”, but it has be­come the Is­raeli term for a broad range of ac­tiv­i­ties aimed at dis­sem­i­nat­ing pos­i­tive in­for­ma­tion about Is­rael, and pro­mot­ing pos­i­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward it.— Wash­ing­ton Post

Roger Wa­ters has urged other artists not to play in Is­rael.


Nick Cave


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