We Americans are often criticized for our candor. But speaking truth to power was the very foundation of the American Revolution.
It’s a lesson that we in the American Jewish community ought to bear in mind as more celebrities come out to bully the State of Israel into submission. Not only does our organization, The World Values Network, not apologize for publishing a full-page ad in The Washington Post calling out pop singer Lorde for her bigotry in canceling her Tel Aviv concert in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but we will double down and launch more media campaigns against those who traffic in anti-Israel bias and prejudice.
The BDS movement’s objective is the destruction of Israel. And the world Jewish community has a responsibility to stand up for the world’s only Jewish state. Two thousand years of antisemitism have taught us that “if we are not for ourselves, then who will be for us,” as Hillel expressed it so eloquently. Those who boycott must themselves be boycotted. Lorde joined an international attack on the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There can be no tolerance for intolerance, no safe sanctuary for anti-Jewish bigotry. The year is 2018 and we Jews won’t stand for this anymore.
Our ad attracted worldwide attention, with hundreds of headlines from across the globe pointing out Lorde’s bigotry and hypocrisy in canceling her Israel shows while holding on to those in Russia, making a mockery of any pretension the artist has to a human rights agenda.
Not surprisingly, Roger Waters, one of the music world’s most vitriolic critics of Israel, came to Lorde’s defense. Like many BDS advocates, Waters is an antisemite. This is not just my opinion; it is the conclusion of the Anti-Defamation League. “His comments about Jews and Israel have gotten progressively worse over time,” ADL national director Abraham Foxman said in 2013. “It started with anti-Israel invective, and has now morphed into conspiratorial antisemitism.”
Having Waters accuse me of bullying – as he did in a letter to The Guardian signed by 100 Hollywood types – for placing a newspaper ad against the supporters of BDS is the height of hypocrisy. Waters has relentlessly and shamefully bullied performers scheduled to perform in Israel and few have had the courage to denounce his bigotry directly.
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is one of the few who has taken on Waters, after the former Pink Floyd singer led a campaign calling for Radiohead to boycott Israel. The band not only went ahead and played in Israel for the fourth time, but Yorke called out Waters for being “patronizing” and “offensive.”
Waters and his fellow boycott advocates believe they alone have the right to speak their minds, and do so with the nefarious goal of destroying the State of Israel. It is further evidence of their own bigotry that they wish to deny us the right to defend the Jewish people. For Waters, Jews just have to take it on the chin, as they have for two millennia.
It was no surprise that Waters condemned me and recruited other well-known Israel haters such as Ken Loach, Alice Walker and Angela Davis to sign a letter supporting Lorde’s boycott of Israel. I was dismayed, however, to see John Cusack, Viggo Mortensen and Mark Ruffalo associate with the BDS movement. Do they really want to be linked with an antisemitic campaign?
When artists ally themselves with the unrestrained antisemitism of Roger Waters, then they have to accept they will be tainted by his crass Jew-hatred. As I wrote in an earlier column, in 2013 Waters compared Israel and its rabbis to the Nazis, saying they believed that all non-Jews are “sub human” and that the “parallels with what went on in the ‘30s in Germany are... crushingly obvious.” He also compared artists who perform in Israel to those who performed in Berlin during the Second World War.
His vile hatred for the Jewish people has also transcended mere words. As I published earlier, in 2013 Waters masqueraded as a Nazi in one of his concerts. Flanked by long banners, Waters’s outfit was complete with a slick leather jacket, a red arm-band, and an MP40 Schmeisser – the iconic Nazi machine gun used extensively by Axis powers throughout WWII. To resolve any doubts as to the performer’s clear antisemitism, at the very same concert, the audience found itself orbited by a massive balloon in the shape of a pig and stamped with a Star of David. These schemes were featured at Waters’s concerts in Belgium and the Netherlands, countries where over 130,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis.
Waters and the others who co-signed the letter say I have nothing to teach them about human rights. There is actually a great deal I can teach them, starting with the capacity to distinguish between the democratic government of Israel that respects and promotes human rights versus the Palestinian autocrats and Islamists they support who deny their people basic freedom and dignity. I can teach them about the murderous regime of Bashar Assad, who slaughtered and displaced tens of thousands of Palestinians without protests from these artists. I can teach them about the hypocrisy of defending Hamas, an organization that denies artists freedom of expression, promotes genocide against the Jewish people, engages in honor killings of Palestinian women, and uses Palestinian children as human shields in their bloody wars against Israel.
Most of all, I can teach them the importance of standing against genocide and how they, as famous artists, disgrace themselves when they put Putin’s Russia over Israel, as Lorde did. Russia has backed Assad in his brutal campaign that has resulted in the killing of 500,000 Arabs. Israel, by contrast, runs hospitals and clinics for his victims, just across the border.
BDS does nothing to advance the cause of peace, tolerance and understanding, and actually hurts the Palestinian people. Most proponents of the boycott live thousands of miles away and do not represent the will of the Palestinians in the disputed territories who must live with the consequences and therefore oppose the boycott. Tens of thousands of Palestinians benefit from going to Israeli universities, from working for Israeli companies, and from employment in Israeli communities.
The reality Lorde is conveniently shielded from is that the Palestinian Authority refuses to negotiate peace, denies its own people civil and human rights and cannot provide jobs or meet the basic needs of Palestinians. I wonder if the BDS supporters are aware of how women and gays, for example, are discriminated against in Palestinian-controlled areas? Do they know that women can be murdered in “honor killings,” or gays may be killed for violating Islamic prohibitions on homosexuality?
Do the BDS advocates explain to their followers that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is a corrupt dictator who is now entering the 13th year of a four-year presidential term and that is why an overwhelming majority of Palestinians tell pollsters he should resign? I hope that Lorde will take advantage of the invitation from Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand to meet and learn more about the country she has chosen to demonize.
I hope she will speak to performers like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Elton John who had the courage to stand up to the pressure and found that Israel is a beautiful country, and a model of tolerance, full of people that crave peace and that differs completely from the imaginary place BDS advocates have invented. I hope she will speak to legends like Ringo Starr who announced, just days after Lorde’s cancellation, that he will be performing in Israel.
Most of all, I hope that Lorde admits she made a mistake and reschedules her concert. She will be forgiven and find a welcoming audience in Tel Aviv. More important than the music, however, will be her demonstration that she supports peace and tolerance and utterly repudiates earlier errors of bigotry.
As for Roger Waters, I put out a challenge. Rather than write boring letters about me to The Guardian
in which you hide behind 100 of your fading Hollywood lackeys, stand up and agree to debate me on Israel and the Middle East. You claim to know how awful Israel is and that “You Don’t Need No Education.” So utilize a public debate as a stage to make your case. Surely this exactly the kind of offer you’ve been waiting for.
I eagerly await your response.The author, whom The Washington Post and Newsweek call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.