In Israel, even concerts are political. For international superstars, deciding whether to show up might imply what side you’re on: Israel’s or Palestine’s. And over the weekend, 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-award-winning singer, asking her to cancel a 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 or were forced out of when Israel was created in 1948.
At first Lorde responded to the letter by saying she would reconsider the concert date, and by Sunday, 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.” She added that she’s “truly sorry to reverse my commitment to come play for you. I hope one day we can all dance.”
The production company that was to put on the concert said that tickets would be refunded within 14 days, and Israel’s culture minister asked Lorde to reconsider.
The singer also got some pushback in the U.S. over the decision. Actor Roseanne Barr criticized Lorde’s decision, and a writer for the Jewish newspaper the Forward noted that the singer is keeping her tour dates in Russia, a country that doesn’t have a pristine record on civil rights.
In recent years, several artists have canceled 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 later played in Israel in 2014.) Elvis Costello also canceled two shows in Israel in 2010, saying “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 canceled shows.
For as many artists who cancel shows in Israel, there are others who face criticism and still press on with their tour dates. In 2014, The Post’s Ruth Eglash noted that, 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.
Some artists have been especially vocal in opposing the boycott, such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who told Rolling Stone in June that an effort to pressure the band to cancel a concert in Israel was “extremely upsetting. There’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us.” J.K. Rowling was one of more than 150 writers, artists and other figures who signed a letter in 2015 stating, “Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace.”
Once on stage, 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 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 traveled 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 said.