Analysis: A major BDS win in a sea of losses

Lorde’s cancellation has created a lot of noise - more so than the dozens of acts who show up every year.

December 25, 2017 22:20
4 minute read.
Lorde performs in Britain

Lorde performs on the Other Stage at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival in Britain. (photo credit: DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS)


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There’s no way to escape the truth of Sunday’s news: The BDS movement chalked up a serious win when Lorde canceled her scheduled Tel Aviv concert.

After a week of being bombarded on social media with calls to boycott the Jewish state, the 21-year-old singer announced on Sunday evening that she wouldn’t be performing a show in Tel Aviv after all. And the activists who dedicate themselves to pushing for a cultural boycott rejoiced like they haven’t for a long time. It was nothing short of a huge win for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which goes after almost any artist that announces a show in Israel and pushes them to cancel.

What made the accomplishment for BDS so monumental, was how publicly, vocally and internationally the story played out. Already last week, news organizations in the US, UK and New Zealand were speculating that Lorde may pull out of the show after a tweet to a fan that she was “considering all options.”

So when the news broke on Sunday evening, the buzz was instantaneous. And when the singer made it clear that her cancellation was politically motivated, the swarm of coverage descended. From Rolling Stone magazine to Newsweek, The Guardian, Billboard and Entertainment Weekly, foreign media outlets were thrilled as usual to find a story involving a celebrity and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lorde’s openness about her thought process made it easy for BDS activists to celebrate the decision. In many other cases, it can be hard to judge the impact of the movement which calls on artists to steer clear of Israel. The outright failures are clear: BDS activists, backed by Roger Waters, tried relentlessly and unsuccessfully to have Radiohead cancel its July show. Same goes for Nick Cave, who defiantly took the stage in Tel Aviv in November.

Other artists have quietly canceled shows, giving either no explanation at all or a vague one, leaving it open for boycott activists to claim as a win.

Last month, Rag N’ Bone Man quietly canceled his show scheduled in Israel for next year, and barely anybody noticed at all. A spokesman for the local producer of the show said no reason was given, and the singer himself only wrote on social media that “unfortunately” it was canceled.
Guns N' Roses in Tel Aviv, July 15, 2017 (Credit: Benji Lovitt)

Russ, an American rapper known mostly to those under age 20, was supposed to appear in Tel Aviv in February 2018. The show was quietly pulled from the club’s website last month, and the rapper posted, and then deleted, an apology if he “caused any pain.” Of course, without an explicit condemnation of Israel – and without Lorde’s much more significant star power – these cancellations didn’t make any noise at all.

In June, popular hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis canceled a show slated for July. A representative for the band said the reason was “unexpected scheduling conflicts,” but the BDSers still tried to claim victory. Rapper Lil Wayne canceled his August 2017 show a couple months in advance, also citing scheduling conflicts.

Over the years, there have been a few other solid BDS wins, where an artist canceled an already scheduled show for explicitly political reasons. In 2010 Elvis Costello pulled the plug on a gig, and in 2015 Lauryn Hill did the same. Some activists like to point to rumored shows that never materialize as BDS success stories, but that can often be a stretch.

So many considerations go into the tour decisions of huge recording artists, and the fact that Beyonce didn’t make it to Tel Aviv last year doesn’t mean she never will. Coldplay was long rumored to be playing shows in Israel, which have yet to pan out. But since Chris Martin has visited the country twice this year, including bringing his girlfriend Dakota Johnson to a Nick Cave concert here, I can’t imagine he’s a BDS supporter.

There’s no denying that the sprawling, dedicated and active BDS movement can get results. We saw it this week with Lorde, and have seen it with other artists – not just musicians – on a smaller scale. It’s hard not to feel bad for the New Zealand singer who, may have made the wrong decision, but was faced with a constant barrage of criticism from every side.

But Israeli live music fans don’t have that much to worry about. For every Lorde, there are a dozen other acts that show up every year, and perform to sold-out crowds of tens of thousands of screaming fans.

Sure, some are on the older side, with Elton John, Bryan Adams, The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Boy George, Queen, Madonna and Radiohead all playing in recent years. But it’s not just acts that are slightly past their heyday hitting the stage in Tel Aviv.

This summer more than 50,000 fans showed up to see Justin Bieber, one of the hottest current acts in the world. Britney Spears pulled tens of thousands of concert-goers, Sia left her mark, James Blunt wooed the crowd and Rihanna gave it her all. One Republic said they’re dying to come back after their 2015 show, reggae superstar Sean Paul gave his third concert in Israel this summer and Kanye West gave an unforgettable show in 2015.

It’s disappointing and upsetting for local fans to see an act like Lorde give in to pressure to not even give the State of Israel a chance. But there are so many more artists – at the top of their careers – who know the adoring reception they will face here.

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