By Emily Gian
New Zealand singer Lorde was quoted in a recent Guardian article as saying, “I want to be Leonard Cohen,” so when my father, a life-long Cohen fan, heard about this and the reasons for the cancellation of the Tel Aviv leg of her world tour show which also involves two gigs in Russia, he dryly responded, “So instead she’s become Yasser Arafat!”
I think he was being facetious but I am not 100% sure in light of everything that has already been written on this topic and the publication of the singer’swishy-wishy explanation of her change of heart – said to have resulted from a letter penned by two New Zealanders, a Jew and a Palestinian, which presented a one-sided BDS style version of the conflict and was swallowed hook, line and sinker.
One could be forgiven for saying that the decision to cancel has received more attention than it deserves and to end it there but for the fact that several aspects of the bullying of the BDS movement and its distortion of the truth need to be challenged.
A growing number of artists are resisting the pressure put on them to cancel performances in Israel. They include Radiohead and Nick Cave (who both made a point last year of speaking out against the BDS movement), Rihanna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Kygo, Elton John, Chainsmokers, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Morrissey, Queen, Kanye West, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Guns N’ Roses, Justin Bieber and even the Pixies, who years ago became the poster children of the BDS movement when they cancelled a show in 2010 after the Mavi Marmara incident, but then came back in 2014 and performed in Israel again last year. Moreover, the hypocrisy of the boycotters was highlighted earlier this year when it was revealed that films by and involving noted BDSers were being exhibited in Tel Aviv.
Mind you, hypocrisy is what is at the forefront here when an artist who prides herself on “bring informed” shuns Israel but will still perform twice in Russia which occupies parts of the Ukraine, oppresses its minorities including Moslems and its LGBT people and bolsters up Syria’s Assad regime which drops chemical weapons on the heads of its own people and is responsible for half a million dead and from which millions have fled in the past decade. One wonders where were the letters urging her not to go there or even not to return to her native New Zealand because of its past treatment of the indigenous population?
But the thing that really prompted me to write now was a nasty item that appeared on my Facebook news feed from Junkee where journalist Sam Langford tried to explain Lorde’s decision telling readers that the conflict had a “complex history” before proceeding to simplify it for them by telling far less than half of the story, putting it out of context and ignoring the bulk of the true history of the conflict.
To Langford’s mind, Israel is a violator of international law, has “been widely criticised for many years for essentially trying to build a country in the middle of someone else’s,” and is “ — occupying more and more of Palestine, often violently, rather than trying to negotiate a peaceful way to coexist.”
So eager was the writer to simplify that “complex history”, that Langford, either by ignorance or willfully, managed to conveniently erase essential facts that contradict the entire narrative conveyed by this piece.
Jews have always lived in the land and, as far back as the middle of the 19th century formed a majority of the population of its then largest city, Jerusalem. Missing from the Langford narrative are decades of violence and murder of Jews who lived in the land including the Hebron massacre of 1929, the Arab Riots of the 30s and other violence leading up to war that followed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 which was brought about as a result of a UN Resolution that called for a creation of an Arab and a Jewish State. This was rejected by the Arabs who called for a war and a “momentous massacre” of Jews.
Therefore, long before there was any occupation, the very idea of co-existence was shunned not by the Jews but by the Arabs. Indeed, it was in 1948 that Jordan occupied the West Bank of the River Jordan, illegally desecrating Jewish places of worship and cleansing the Old City of all of its Jews. That was the situation when the PLO came into existence in 1964. So, exactly what was it seeking to liberate?
Langford’s simple history missed the Israeli victory in 1967 when it captured the West Bank from Jordan after urging its king not to enter the fighting as well as the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt) and the Golan Heights (Syria) in a preemptive war in the face of threats of its destruction by the Egyptians. No mention of Israel’s offer to withdraw in return for peace which was rebuffed immediately by the Arab League.
Then there were peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo Accords with the PLO and at least three peace offers from various Israeli leaders within a decade at the turn of this century (all of them rejected by the Palestinians) and the withdrawal from Gaza and four West Bank settlements that resulted in terrorists firing rockets at the civilian population even as they were leaving their homes. And this is not to mention the regular incitement to violence from the highest levels of Palestinian political and religious leadership including the recent denial of the Palestinian President of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem in which he called Jews “liars”.
So much for Langford’s claim that Israel is not “trying to negotiate a peaceful way to coexist.”
In Langford’s deluded world, the peaceful way to coexist actually involves the avoidance by negotiation of an end to the “occupation” – the one that Hamas and Fatah refer to dates from 1948 and before and not 1967. The Palestinians are somehow excused to fire tens of thousands of rockets indiscriminately from heavily populated areas at Israeli civilians, which includes an incident just the other day when the good people of Hamas fired four rockets while the family of fallen soldier Oron Shaul (who was killed in Gaza in 2014 and whose remains they refuse to return) marked his birthday.
And, is it peaceful coexistence that lies behind the Palestinian Authority decision to reward terrorists by paying them and their families enormous stipends and to honour suicide bombers who murder Israeli civilians?
Junkee claims to the “smartest and most original pop culture title” and purports to go beyond the headline to give young Australians a fresh take on what’s going in their world. From movies to politics, TV to tech and everything in-between.
But it is not so smart or original to provide a megaphone to a boycott movement that denies the Jewish people the same right to self-determination as it demands for the Palestinians. What sort of take is it to give oxygen to a bigoted, racist creed that does nothing to further any aspirations on the part of the Palestinian people to coexist with their neighbours and to live the independent lives they deserve?
If Junkee has any responsibility at all to its readers and to keep them properly informed, it needs to re-examine this piece and allow a proper response which includes more of the facts about the conflict’s “complex history” and less of the propaganda that helped sway a young artist into making a decision that is out of touch with many of the world’s greatest artists who refuse to yield to the BDS bullying.
This brings me back to Leonard Cohen who visited Israel on a number of occasions including during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 in which Egypt and Syria attacked the country on the holiest day of the year for Jews (they lost that battle too).
On Cohen’s last visit in 2009, when the boycotters demanded that he call it off, he offered a matching concert in the West Bank but the offer was rejected. Even Amnesty International was bullied out of a plan to help him distribute the concert’s proceeds to peace groups. In the end, the performance took place in front of 47,000 in the soccer stadium of the suburb Ramat Gan and was a raging success. Billed “A Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace”, its profits (more than $US1 million) went to a new charity run by a board of Israelis and Palestinians for distribution to groups focused on coexistence.
It is a shame that Lorde has deprived herself of the opportunity to live her dream to be Leonard Cohen and to emulate the way her idol made a truly meaningful contribution to coexistence and peace in this troubled region.
Emily Gian is the Media & Advocacy Director for the Zionist Federation of Australia.