Lorde just the latest musician mired in Israel controversy

Playing concerts in Israel are fraught with risks, as Lorde recently found out after first announcing and soon afterwards cancelling a concert. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

But just avoiding including Israel in tour plans means that opponents of Israel win, because that’s what they are trying to impose.

Washington Post – Lorde is only the latest: How touring in Israel thrusts musicians into controversy

On Dec. 18, New Zealand pop music sensation Lorde announced plans to play concerts in Israel and Russia. On Dec. 24, she announced the cancellation of her Israeli concert, which was scheduled for June 5 at the Tel Aviv Convention Centre. “I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” she said in a statement.

In the six days between Lorde’s concert announcement and her cancellation, an increasingly pitched battle played out, both in public and behind the scenes, to win over the 21 year-old pop star. Activists and fans in favor of the ongoing cultural boycott of Israel because of the country’s policies related to Palestinians urged her to reconsider; pro-Israeli activists and fans lobbied for her to hold fast.

Lorde was caught in a no-win situation, but she is far from being the first.

In recent years, these artistic tug-of-wars over artists including Radiohead, Lauryn Hill and Nick Cave, have become increasingly common, although Lorde’s change of heart has been the highest-profile musical victory yet for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

If there’s one thing on which both sides can agree, it’s that 21 year-old artists from half a world away can’t be expected to understand the full details of a complicated issue tied to one of the defining geopolitical conflicts of our time. Musicians of any age who contemplate playing Israel sometimes lack awareness of the risks and rewards.

Managers and tour arrangers should be aware of the potential problems with booking gigs in Israel. A cynic could suggest it is deliberate publicity seeking (with or without the artist’s understanding).

Tour promoters warn acts in advance of any “delicacies they need to be aware of,” says Oren Arnon, a promoter at leading Israeli company Shuki Weiss, who did not promote the Lorde show. Artist managers warn fellow artist managers.

David Renzer, a music publishing veteran who co-founded the entertainment industry anti-boycott group the Creative Community For Peace, says his organization works within the record industry to outline the merits of playing in Israel, and warn of its complications.

The response to Lorde’s cancellation has been swift, and seismic. A hundred artists, including Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and author Alice Walker, signed an open letter supporting her. Israel’s Culture Minister said she hoped the singer would reconsider, while its ambassador to New Zealand asked for a meeting.

Critics on Twitter pointed out the human-rights abuses in Russia, where Lorde still plans to play two shows.

In a roundly condemned full-page ad in The Washington Post, an American rabbi suggested that “21 is young to become a bigot,” its text juxtaposed with an image of Lorde appearing to stare skeptically at the Israeli flag.

Both sides have accused the other of extremist rhetoric, acting in bad faith and bullying, allegations that have become commonplace in the ongoing war for celebrity hearts and minds.

Arnon claims Cave, the Australian post-punk icon, endured “months and months of humiliation” before his November shows in Tel Aviv went on as planned.

The most prominent voice in supporting touring boycotts of Israel has become Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters. The man responsible for “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” has spent the past decade becoming increasingly outspoken on the issue, and uses his fame within the music industry to confront artists who plan to perform in Israel.

I’m going to a Roger Waters concert in Dunedin later this month. Just for the music of course, it will be an evening break from politics.

Israel attracts a perhaps greater-than-usual share of baby boomers such as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Elton John. Classic rock acts are often indifferent to social media pressure campaigns, and their fans tend to have enough disposable income to withstand the country’s frequently higher ticket prices.

Perhaps rockers from the sixties are used to being controversial – some of them stoked and relished it, so a bit of political banter will be just more publicity.

Promoters live with the constant threat that a musician might bolt, whether it’s an apolitical artist who just wants to avoid a public thrashing, or someone privately sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, observing what Barghouti calls a “silent boycott.”

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pharrell Williams, Elvis Costello and Lauryn Hill have all canceled dates in Israel, the latter two suggesting issues of conscience were responsible.

A major problem with ‘conscience’ based boycotts is claims of inconsistency and hypocrisy, as Lorde discovered when her plans for Israel and Russia were compared.

Lorde’s cancellation is seen as a needed, high-profile win for pro-boycott activists.

Perhaps it is also a high profile win for Lorde’s tour publicity.

Lorde will almost certainly be one of the last major artists to schedule an Israel concert date without appearing to have fully considered the global implications. From now on, if it weren’t the case already, merely scheduling a concert date in Israel will be considered a political act.

“It’s a very tricky issue,” the concert promoter Arnon says. “And you never come out of it clean.”

So best to avoid including Israel in tour schedules, as the anti-Israel protesters demand? Or try the schedule then cancel trick to increase your tour publicity?

What if a protest movement starts to target artists who plan to perform in the US?

More Lorde criticism

A large advertisement has been run in the Washington Post criticising Lorde’s decision to pull out of a planned concert in Israel.

It’s blatant bullshit to associate Lorde’s decision with New Zealand. She may come from here but she is an international artist acting on her own (with her management).

But her canning the Israel concert could be a slippery slope, for her and for other performers put under similar political pressure.

The power of social media is not always positive – in fact it’s often negative.

 

‘Music should unite not divide’

That sounds similar to arguments about maintaining sporting relations under apartheid in South Africa, but it is also an argument with some merit.

RNZ:  ‘Music should unite not divide’

Lorde was set to play in Tel Aviv on 5 June as part of her Melodrama tour but was last week urged not to perform.

Late last week the New Zealand Palestinian Human Rights Campaign said Lorde’s concert would be seen as an endorsement of the Israel government and its treatment of Palestinians.

Spokesperson Janfrie Wakim said the show would be in breach of a cultural boycott supported by 170 Palestinian groups.

In a Facebook post Itzhak Gerberg has invited the singer to a “friendly meeting” to talk it over.

Mr Gerberg says by succumbing to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Lorde is encouraging animosity in the region.

“Music should unite not divide,” the post read.

“Reactions driven by hatred lead to continued #conflict. But solutions come from engagement and lead to compromise, co-operation, and #peace.”

A fair argument.

The US-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which campaigns against antisemitism, said the fact Lorde still plans to tour Russia illustrates the hypocrisy of the international community towards the region’s only democracy.

Also a fair point – it would be possible to find someone who could justify a boycott of performances in many different countries.

Yesterday Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev said she should be a “pure heroine” of culture, void of any foreign political considerations.

Lorde is refunding fans who had bought tickets and said she didn’t make the right call in agreeing to the show.

I don’t know how many views she listened to before coming to that conclusion. Perhaps mostly her business manager.

It has certainly raised Lorde’s profile.

Musical performances have arguably helped change history.For example:

Rocking the Wall — The Berlin Concert that Changed the World

As incredible as it may sound in 2014, there is considerable evidence that Springsteen unwittingly helped bring the Berlin Wall down with the biggest, most riveting earth-shaking concert in the history of East Germany.

It all happened 16 months before the Wall fell in July 1988, and the biggest crowd Springsteen ever played before watched him perform in the East Berlin district of Weissensee on a giant meadow. Springsteen worked his magic there in front of a crowd of 300,000 people — only half of whom had tickets. The other half simply stormed the gates and got away with it.

Not only did Springsteen have ecstatic East Germans screaming their lungs out while singing “Born in the USA,” he also opened his four-hour long concert defiantly with “Badlands,” a song that East Germans might have felt referred to their country, and he later played “Chimes of Freedom” right after delivering a courageous short speech calling for the wall to be torn down. For East Germans locked up behind the Berlin Wall it was an unforgettable address and an incredibly liberating moment — an American rock star telling 300,000 people that he came to play for them in the hope that “one day the barriers will be torn down.”

And 16 months later, the Berlin Wall was gone.

Could Lorde help precipitate historic change in Jerusalem and in the Middle East?

 

 

Lorde and Israel

A singer has removed a gig from their schedule. In the circumstances I have concerns about the use of social media pressure to coerce, but this is just the entertainment industry and the bottom line is financial, and that’s likely to be the reason for the change.

But some seem to think it’s a big deal.

The Standard:

Kiwiblog:

It’s fair to question why Lorde has singled out Israel, but why single out Russia as a comparison? Activists in the world could probably argue against every venue if so inclined.

Tough talk from a dirty gutless flake? WO should know all about financial compromises and imperatives.

But this may not be the end of it, as the other side of social media pressure plays it’s hand.

Green Light

Impressions on this?

State of the political journalist nation

 

@CTrevettNZH
At Kelston Girls’ ready for David Cunliffe’s state of the nation. There’s a BBQ after for the 5 people who don’t run off to watch Grammys

Political journalists more interested in lording over celebrities and pop songs than singing Cunliffe’s praises.

And a  Labour BBQ.  Isn’t there some history with them?

 

 

Cunliffe versus Lorde

@ShayneCurrieNZH on Twitter:

Who in Labour thought it a good idea to time leader’s state of nation speech on the same afternoon as Lorde (hopefully) dominates Grammys?

@DavidCunliffeMP 

Be part of the State of the Nation event on Monday at 1pm. Watch the live online stream at http://new.livestream.com/nzlabourlive  and tweet with #Labour2014

The Grammys:

The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will take place live on Sunday, Jan. 26 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).

For GRAMMY coverage, updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy’s social networks on Twitter and Facebook.

That makes the Grammys 5-8.30 pm Monday NZ time, right through the evening news time slots.

Labour seem to have been thinking more about Justin Bieber than Lorde – see Labour and rock star moments.