Lorde didn’t bow to pressure, she rose to the occasion

31 Dec

Lorde at the 2014 St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Sydney, Australia (Photo: Annette Geneva/ Wikimedia)

By Nada Elia, Mondoweiss, 30 December 2017

Since Lorde’s announcement that she had cancelled the Tel Aviv leg of her world tour, she has been called a bigot, immature, naïve, and despite her hitherto well-known political stances on justice issues from LGBTQ to indigenous rights, is now being portrayed in sexist and ageist terms as a helpless young fool. Miri Regev, Israel’s Culture Minister, asked Lorde to reconsider, even as Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand invited her to a meeting, so as to educate her about the situation in Israel. “By succumbing to the hateful agenda of the few who support #BDS you encourage animosity in the region,” the ambassador wrote Lorde, guilting her with heavy-handed clichés: “only democracy in the Middle East,” “music should unite not divide,” and of course, BDS being motivated by hatred, rather than an impulse towards justice.

The Jerusalem Post is publishing editorial after editorial about the cancellation, some by the Editorial Board itself, others by guest writers, all extremely patronizing to Lorde, and rehashing the offensive old stereotype of Palestinians as hijackers, as it describes her as “having been taken captive” by BDS “bullies.” “Lorde and the BDS bullies,” describes her as the “perfect candidate to be taken captive by the BDS movement.”
“For the young Lorde, who is clueless about Zionism and knows nothing about Israel’s long history of struggle with a violent, intolerant and antisemitic Arab national movement, it is no political statement to appear in Tel Aviv before a crowd of globalized Israeli youths,” that editorial continues, before concluding: “Lorde is supposed to play music. Unfortunately, this time she let herself be played.”

Another editorial states “Lorde Caves to BDS Pressure.” And a third asks “Who needs Lorde,” as it reminds readers that other big names continue to perform in Israel.

But Lorde did not cancel her Tel Aviv concert after BDS “pressure.” Pressure, like racism and sexism, requires power. The capacity to impose a penalty, if you want. Or at least some tangible consequences. When she announced the cancellation, Lorde explained that she had received communication from pro- and anti-BDS activists, and made up her own mind. “I’ve received an overwhelming number of messages & 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,” Lorde wrote of her decision. “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”

Lorde did not cave in to pressure. Just the opposite, she rose to the occasion. As she put it herself, “it was the right decision.”

Yes, BDS activists do reach out to artists who announce performances in Israel. We use all of our resources to educate them about the situation, and the context of the call for cultural boycott. But those “resources” do not go beyond volunteers on social media. We also never threaten anyone, even though most of us have folders of hate mail, sent by Zionists. (Most recently, Justine Sachs, the Jewish New Zealander who co-wrote the Open Letter to Lorde asking her not to perform in Israel, has cancelled her social media accounts after receiving threatening emails, including ones that state they know where she lives, and hoping ISIS will find and rape her).

Israel, on the other hand, has an entire arsenal behind it: millions of dollars invested in Brand Israel campaigns, anti-BDS “commando units,” as well as the significant financial gain from the performance itself. The Israeli government has just pushed through yet one more anti-BDS program, funding it to the tune of 260 million NIS (close to 75 million US dollars) specifically designed to flood artists considering an Israel performance with emails. Comparing the new program to a “PR Commando Unit,” the government spokesperson said “ ‘Imagine Lorde was hit with a viral campaign the same day she announced her show’s cancellation.”

As to consequences, artists who perform in Israel reap millions, between the performance itself and the merchandise at the venue, and have very little, if anything at all, to lose. On the other hand, those who cancel suffer severe consequences. Five German state-affiliated television stations and their radio affiliates announced that they will not broadcast Roger Waters’ concerts, because he is a long-term outspoken supporter of BDS and Palestinian rights. And a night club that had previously hosted four performances by Talib Kweli recently cancelled his 2018 show, after they found out he had spoken for Palestinian rights.

There are no incentives and no rewards, for cancelling concerts in Israel. Those artists who do it are aware of the consequences: immense gratitude from Palestinian rights activists, and overwhelming opprobrium from the powerful Zionists. Like Lorde, they are making the right decision. And, when we finally celebrate the abolition of apartheid in the twenty-first century, they will be proud to say they were on the right side of history. 

About the writer: Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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