Lorde announced over the weekend that she is cancelling her June show in Tel Aviv after world-wide backlash from activists who advocate for a cultural boycott of Israel. The New Zealand-born singer had previously announced that she would be taking her Melodrama World Tour to the city, but in a new statement, she admits that was the wrong call.
“I 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 wrote. In reference to booking the show in the first place, she said, “I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.” She added that she still wishes to visit the area at some point.
“Tel Aviv, it’s been a dream of mine to visit this beautiful part of the world for many years,” she said. “I’m truly sorry to reverse my commitment to come play for you. I hope one day we can all dance.”
The singer had received many messages to cancel the show, including a letter from fellow Kiwis, Jewish activist Justine Sachs and Palestinian activist Nadia Abu-Shanab. Their open letter urged Lorde to reconsider the show, saying that a concert in Israel would send the “wrong message.”
“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 activists wrote. “Such an effect cannot be undone by even the best intention and the best music.” The letter was not without opposition. The posting itself had a link to a counterview from a Jewish guest writer, Dane Giraud who said that boycotting was not the answer.
So why is this one concert such a big deal? The answer to that question is really complicated and lies in the ongoing tensions between the Israeli and Palestinian states. Here’s what you need to know to understand what’s going on here.
The low-down on Palestinian-Israeli relations
The modern conflict between the Israel — the world’s only Jewish state — and Palestine — the territory claimed by the Arab population of the area — began in the late 19th century and is still tense and unresolved to this day. Many battles have been fought over land in the little coastal territory to the east of the Mediterranean Sea, but one small portion of that, the West Bank, is of particular contention. The land is owned by the Palestinian Authority by name, but in the 1967 war it was taken over by what is acknowledged by most of the globe as Israeli occupation. At the time, some Palestinians were driven out of the area. The rest were restricted and Israeli settlements were erected (in violation of international U.N. law). The area is now occupied and policed by the Israeli military.
The conflict is not just about the land dispute. It is also about sovereignty (Palestine is not globally recognized as a country, while Israel mostly is), ideology and religion. For the whole story, Vox covers the entire conflict in great (and easy-to-read) detail.
What is this boycott?
Lorde’s now-cancelled show is part of a world-wide boycott of Israel in response to their treatment of Palestinians. The BDS Movement is an initiative led by Palestinian activists to encourage “boycott, divestment and sanctions” from the global community with the goal of culturally and economically isolating Israel into more fair treatment of the Palestinian population by BDS’s standards. Founded in 2005, their mission vows to cultivate support through the movement until three criteria are met: Israel ends its occupation of “all Arab lands,” recognizes the full rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes (as stipulated by the U.N.).
The BDS approach is hotly debated as an effective strategy (as we saw play out with Lorde’s decision). Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not support the movement in its entirety and instead advocates for only boycotting goods made in the West Bank Israeli settlements. Despite the president’s lack of support, the boycott has become increasingly more mainstream over the past few years. On the other side of the conflict, the United States and Guatemala have just recognized Jerusalem (the east of which is disputed territory) as the capital of Israel.
Public response to Lorde
There have been mixed reviews for Lorde’s decision to pull out of the Tel Aviv concert. She has received support and praise from the Palestinian community and those who called on her to boycott. The owner of the concert promoter in Tel Aviv said in a Facebook post that he was thankful to her for “giving [them] the opportunity in the first place” and also acknowledged the controversial position Lorde was in saying he “was naive to think that an artist of her age could withstand the pressure of coming to Israel.” He apologized to her and her fans for the disappointment.
Other groups were not so understanding. The New Zealand Jewish Council issued a statement expressing their disappointment that Lorde “succumbed to a small but loud group of extremist bullies” and comedian Roseanne Barr called the singer a “bigot” and also said she “caved to BDS pressure” to cancel the show. Barr has been very vocal about her support for Israel and has even expressed a wish to move there.
Boycott this bigot: Lorde caves to BDS pressure, cancels Israel concert https://t.co/eugOCJPRBu
— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) December 24, 2017
Israeli Cultural Minister Miri Regev also aired her disappointment in a statement and said she hopes Lorde will “reconsider her decision not to play in Israel.”
“Lorde, I expect you to be a ‘pure heroine’ like the title of your first album,” she wrote. “A pure heroine of culture, void of any foreign political considerations, not to mention delusional ones.”
While this conflict — and its yet-unrealized resolution — does not begin or end with Lorde, her decision to cancel the Tel Aviv concert highlights the global controversy and brings dialogue on the subject further into the mainstream.