FEATURE: Lorde, the Good of Israel... Why Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Accusations of Bigotry Are Dangerous and Misguided



Lorde, the Good of Israel…



Why Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Accusations of Bigotry Are Dangerous and Misguided


FOR someone who preaches love and togetherness…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

labelling one of music’s biggest names a “bigot” is a rather contradictory and ironic move! Lorde recently cancelled a concert in Israel because of the tensions and conflicts (Israel has( with Palestine. This boycott is not a new phenomenon: as I will discuss; music figures have passed the opportunity to play Israel fearing (performing there) would send a bad political message. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach put out a full-page advert in The Washington Post following the New Zealand-born singer’s decision to pull out of her planned date in Israel. Lorde decided to cancel because of the poor treatment of Palestinians. Rabbi Boteach claimed her “jew-hatred” was part of a wider idolatry and mindset by Western artists. The New Jersey-based preacher poured scorn on Lorde and claimed that, as a twenty-one-year-old, it was a surprise finding someone so narrow-minded and bigoted. One can write-off the ramblings and misinformed delusions as a way of kicking up prevarication and serving a personal agenda – it does worry me how such accusations will impinge on the music world. Back in July; Radiohead took to the stage in Tel Aviv and were met with protest and derision. It was done and was seen as a deliberate contravention of the boycott of Israel called for by Palestinian civil society and adhered to by leading cultural figures.


IN THIS PHOTO: Jonny Greenwood/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The band’s guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, has an Israeli wife - so was aware of the situation and complexities present. The protests and abuse - the band had plastic bottles and debris thrown at them – was upsetting and affecting for a group who were only trying to bring their music to the people! Many peddled the line that Radiohead were anti-Semitic and supported the mistreatment by Palestinians: given the same accusation has been levied at Lorde (who showed pacification and boycotted); one can hardly win, can they?! There was the suggestion, after the furore surrounding Radiohead, people conflate Zionism with Judaism. Israeli governments, successive, have claimed to represent Jews in general – something seen as injurious and factually floored. A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity states:

Moreover in the United Kingdom those who claim to speak for British Jews collectively (or allow that impression to go unchallenged) tend to reflect only one position on Israel’s conflicts: that of the Israeli government. In reality, however, there is a broad spectrum of opinion among Jews in Britain – just as there is among any other Jewish population in the world – on Israel and on Zionism. Many Jews refuse to view these subjects through a narrow ethnocentric lens. They base their opinions instead upon universal principles of justice and human rights. And they refuse to accept that Israel alone offers a viable identity for Jews.”


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Radiohead were not supporting the apartheid and civil war happening in Israel. One cannot label every band who takes a stand – either by performing and showing they are there to bring love to the people; boycotting as a stand against the violence in Israel – an anti-Semite. Many who protested, as was noted by critics, waved their flags at Radiohead’s gig but support the governments of Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump. How is oppression and bigotry in the U.K. and U.S.?! How can they support flawed and divisive regimes and brand a band like Radiohead, who do not support hatred and division, as bigoted?! Some see Lorde’s boycott as a political move. She is a from New Zealand: a nation that has not been involved in the conflicts between opposing sides in Israel. The nation does not support the hostilities and so, to brand one its most-popular artists a bigot seems rather suspect. I can understand why some would see a boycott as a political move, were they British or American – powerful nations making a conscious decision in regards the struggles. Musicians, by and large, do not have a strong opinion regards Israel and what is happening. They are there to play music but, if they feel performing a gig would send a bad message and would stir trouble – why should they put their lives and fans at risk?!


IN THIS PHOTO: Jerusalem, Israel/PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Radiohead made a stand and took that decision – it was not done lightly and did not suggest their playing meant they supported oppression and those living in occupied territories. They were not backing the militant, blood-shedding fighters and the conflicts there. Other commentators have suggested a boycott is only justifiable when those worst affecting are calling for a boycott themselves; when a musician’s boycott has the chance to bring about change and improvement. I will come to look at Lorde’s case-specific omission but, in the past, actions seen as rebellious and ill-advised have yielded backlash. Paul Simon recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo (for his album, Graceland) when there was apartheid in South Africa. White artists were not performing in the country and it was seen, if they did, they supported the violence and racism there. Simon recruited Ladysmith Black Mambazo because he backed the black artists and population who were being killed and marginalised. That, at the time, was seen as taking an unwise stand – given the tension between different nations and governments – but his boldness and unwillingness to conform to foolish ideologies broke ground and helped bring about change. Israel is a different situation but one where making a stand either way is going to cause derision. Radiohead performed because they knew about the conflicts and divide and were not saying they were in support of the violence – they simply wanted to bring their music to people who were fans; those who wanted an end to bloodshed as much as they did.


IN THIS PHOTO: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (in 2010)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If one labels Lorde a bigot then they have to look back ant every other artist who has boycotted any country, ever. Faithless boycotted Israel in 2010 in solidarity with the Palestinians. Not only did their boycott, and subsequent ones, send a message musicians are unwilling to visit a nation that allows a race/group of people to withstand such brutality and hatred. It raises awareness of the situation there - when news focuses on domestic affairs and pays comparatively little time to Israel-based news – and shows nations like the U.K. and U.S. do not condone that sort of behaviour. Should a band/artist act on behalf of their government and make that call?! It is down to the judgement of the individual but I do not think anyone who plays/boycotts should be labelled as a bigot and conspirator. Radiohead’s decision to perform was met with derision by high-profile figures like Ricky Tomlinson, Juliet Stephenson and Maxine Peake – an open-letter was signed by South African archbishop Desmond Tutu. Poets, musicians and celebrities added their signature to an appeal that urged Radiohead to reconsider. Many saw Radiohead’s decision to ‘support’ apartheid as a double-standards: they are keen advocates of freedom for Tibetans.


IN THIS PHOTO: A boy in Palestine, Jordan/PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Although Radiohead have not faced much heat and commercial disadvantage since that concert; it is still a controversy that highlighted the risks artists are taking playing in Israel. I can understand the desire to reach fans and not exclude people who are opposed to the violence present. Radiohead are not world leaders; nor are they saying they back the violence. Perhaps a certain self-respect was lost (by Radiohead) but one cannot question their motives. Given the years-long boycotts and pressure exerted by public figures – can anyone blame Lorde for pulling out of her gig?! If she were to attend and be met with protests; that could cause her physical harm and she would be exposed to who knows what! Lorde actually asked her fans what she should do and was unaware of the troubles in Israel. She did not want to offend and was hardly coming out in the press with anti-Semitic views! It was a decision based on feedback, research and caution. She did not want to inflame tensions and provoke any criticism and violence. She made the right choice and, other than a social media post saying she was cancelling the concert; nothing else was said on the matter. Following the reaction Radiohead gained when they performed; Lorde had no other choice but to back out.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Whitton

She would have, if she went ahead, garnered bad press and that would have a detrimental impact on her fanbase and commercial platform – and damaged her wellbeing and health. The young songwriter has never, as far as I know, been to Israel so has no idea how bad the situation is. The fact rabbi Boteach went to such extreme lengths to condemn Lorde and single her out is inflammatory and vicious. She is no bigot and is not making any negative statements. The decision is not an easy one but, when other artists have pulled out of Israeli concerts; they have not been greeted with bile-filled spreads in U.S. newspapers. The fact it even made it to print makes me question the integrity and compassion of the editor. Freedom of speech is justified but (his words) step into libellous territory; designed to spark hatred and judge an innocent musician – somewhat ironic given his tirade and the points he was strictly underlining. Rabbi Boteach’s comment are, given past decisions, sexist, ageist and personal. Paul McCartney performed in Israel in 2008 – he played there as part of the nation’s sixtieth anniversary. Militant activist Nakri Muhammed threatened him with death following that decision: McCartney played in the country because he and his friends supported Israel. Whether you see the South Africa comparison as a false analogy or not; it is clear there are complexities and opposing sides. Boycotting Israel is seen as illegal under French law (according to the French appellate court of Colmar; others see (boycotting) flimsy and ineffective). John Lydon, in 2010, responded to criticism against him by claiming he will not boycott any Muslim country because none of them has a democracy – so you cannot have an issue with the violence there! That comment came in light of Elvis Costello’s decision to boycott playing the country. Gene Simmons felt boycotting was a waste of time: directing anger at Arab dictators was a better course of protest.



Other public figures who have shown their support (by boycotting/protesting) include Elton John, Leonard Cohen; Lady Gaga, Rihanna; MGMT, Madonna and Alicia Keys. Riverdance performed in Israel back in 2011. Madonna’s The MDNA Tour visited Tel Aviv in 2012. She said the concert was designed to promote peace – even offering six-hundred tickets to various Israeli and Palestinian groups. Scarlett Johansson promoted SodaStream in 2014 – an Israeli company that operated in a West Bank settlement. SodaStream is a peaceful cooperation and employs Palestinians and Israelis. There are no easy answers and ‘right’ decision when it comes to playing Israel and what refusal/participation says about your political allegiance. There have been artists who have played as support of the innocent and refuse to be cowed. Those conscientiou-objectors are not willing to play in a country that allows the sort of cruelty and violence aimed at Palestinians. Lorde’s decision was not a rash one or based on any prejudice. She was urged by fans not to attend and, when announcing that decision, rationalised and explained everything. There is an irony when one hears a rabbi, who espouses faith and love, expressing such hate and contradictory values. According to the Talmud; gratuitous hatred is the most vicious form of hatred - and the rabbis denounce it in the most extreme terms.



In their view, the Second Temple was destroyed as punishment for this sin (Yoma 9b; cf. Story of Kamẓa and Bar Kamẓa, Git. 95b). It is equal to the three paramount sins of idolatry, fornication and murder (Yoma 9b). Torah explicitly prohibits hatred of one's fellow in the verse "Thou shall not hate thy brother in thine heart" (Lev. 19:17). Hatred is understood by the rabbis as essentially a matter of mental disposition, as implied in the phrase "in thine heart." Torah explicitly prohibits hatred of one's fellow in the verse "Thou shall not hate thy brother in thine heart" (Lev. 19:17). Hatred is understood by the rabbis as essentially a matter of mental disposition, as implied in the phrase "in thine heart." One who expresses hostility to his fellow through word or deed, although he violates the commandment "love thy neighbor" and injunctions against injury, insult, vengeance etc. is not, according to most rabbinic authorities, guilty of the specific sin of hatred referred to in Lev. 19:17 (Sifra, Kedoshim; Ar. 16b; Maim. Yad, De'ot 4:5, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, prohib. 302; Ḥinnukh 238). The Talmud is emphatic in its denunciation of hatred. Hillel taught that the essence of the entire Torah is, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others". I wonder how one who lives his life according to Jewish teachings can so blatantly and explicitly pour hate and scorn on one he does not know?!


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Those interpretations and explanation of hate should, if rabbi Boteach practices as he preaches, make him pause for thought. It is preposterous calling someone like Lorde a bigot. She has no hatred and prejudice in her heart: her music is designed for everyone and she opens her soul to everyone. Her touring and endless schedule means she plays to Israeli and Jewish audiences; she does not discriminate and the fact Lorde felt bad and gutted to miss the gig means it was not an easy decision – as the accusatory and toxic article (by rabbi Boteach) seems to suggest. He would do good to look inside himself and attack an innocent young musician who was pulling out of a concert – she did not kill anyone or commit any huge sin. It is appalling such a tirade was provided the oxygen of national press – I wonder why The Washington Post allowed the article to go to press. The only person who has come out of this with dignity and respect is Lorde. She has not engaged in retaliation and name-calling. Her reasons (for calling off the concert) are sound and she has the right to change plans without being accused of bigotry and hate. Other artists, who have difficult decisions to make regarding gigs in hostile areas, might make a bad decision if they fear a ‘wrong’ choice will see them assaulted in the press! Lorde should be proud of herself as she has come through a difficult time and not broken under pressure and scrutiny. The Washington Post piece is the opinion of one (ludicrous) human but I fear this kind of thing is doing damage to artists who have done no wrong. Let’s hope lessons are learned and people like rabbi Boteach…



THINK before they speak!