Music

Here’s Why Lorde’s Currently At The Centre Of A Global Controversy

It's... complicated.

A few days ago, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand posted an open letter to Facebook, urging Lorde to meet with him to “discuss Israel”.

The letter was prompted by Lorde’s decision to cancel a planned show in Tel Aviv after pressure from activists who said the show would “be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation”.

Now, Lorde’s caught up in the centre of the fierce Israel-Palestine conflict, with supporters of Palestine cheering her decision to cancel the show, and supporters of Israel — including Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand — arguing that the performance “could have contributed to the spirit of hope and peace in the Middle East” if it had gone ahead.

It’s a messy situation. If you’re not totally across what’s going on, here’s what you need to know.

Why Did People Want Lorde To Boycott Israel In The First Place?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably at least vaguely aware of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Basically, Israel has been widely criticised for many years for essentially trying to build a country in the middle of someone else’s.

There’s complex history to this, but most recently Israel has faced serious criticism, including from the UN, for continuing to build illegal settlements on Palestinian territory — occupying more and more of Palestine, often violently, rather than trying to negotiate a peaceful way to coexist. The UN says these settlements violate international law and must immediately cease — we’ve written more about this here, if you need a refresher.

So what does Lorde have to do with this? Well, there’s a movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which aims to pressure Israel to comply with international law by combining, you guessed it, boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Similarly to boycotts of South Africa during the apartheid era, BDS calls on organisations and individuals to withdraw support for Israel, using nonviolent pressure to force it to end its oppression of Palestinian people.

When Lorde’s Tel Aviv show was announced, two New Zealand fans, one Jewish and one Palestinian, penned an open letter detailing their view of the problems with Israel and urging Lorde to join the artistic boycott. Lorde acknowledged the letter in a tweet, saying she was “considering all options” and thanking the fans for educating her. A few days later, the show was cancelled.

Why Is The Israeli Ambassador To New Zealand Getting Involved?

Like everything in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the boycott is contentious. Israel’s government sees nothing wrong with the settlements and Donald Trump recently took their side.

As Israel’s Ambassador to New Zealand put it in his open letter to Lorde, “music should unite not divide and your performance in Israel could have contributed to the spirit of hope and peace in the Middle East.”

“Boycott and hate on the other hand, represents hostility and intolerance,” he wrote, “and I was sorry to see that you have succumbed to the supporters of a small fanatic group of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement that denies the right of the State of Israel to exist and spreads hatred and animosity.”

It’s worth noting that most in the BDS movement do not make any claim that the State of Israel has no right to exist — while it’s a broad movement, and supporters of the boycott support a range of possible solutions for the region, its primary goals are to ensure international law is followed and Palestinians are afforded basic human rights.

Even for those who think Israel is doing something wrong, however, the boycott can be controversial. Some people do think art and engagement has the potential to help unite a reason. Others point out that boycotting Israel leads to a slippery slope — Lorde is still scheduled to play in Russia, for instance, despite international criticism of human rights abuses there. She recently played in Australia, despite UN criticism of our treatment of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

Lorde hasn’t responded yet as to whether she’ll meet with the Israeli ambassador. We’ll keep you updated on how the rest of this tense situation plays out.

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Feature image by Krists Luhaers, (CC BY 2.0)