In a full-page ad in the Washington Post, “America’s Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach has printed an all-out verbal assault on Lorde, the New Zealand singer who recently cancelled a show in Tel Aviv out of concern that she would be legitimating Israel’s occupation. Lorde cancelled her show after reading a letter from two Palestinian and Jewish New Zealanders noting the illegality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, Trump and Netanyahu’s escalation against Jerusalem, the Israeli detention of Palestinian minors like Ahed Tamimi, and the longstanding oppression of Palestinians in Al-Khalil / Hebron, including the family of one of the co-authors. Notably, the letter pulled punches by avoiding any mention of the expulsion of the Palestinian refugees during Israel’s founding, or Israel’s wargames against Iran and throughout the region.
In one of his many attempts to slime critics of Israel with newspaper ad purchases, Shmuley Boteach labels Lorde an anti-Semite over her cancellation and implies that she supports the atrocities of the government of Syria. Boteach is an ardent supporter of Donald Trump and a confidante of Steve Bannon, the notorious former Trump Administration staffer known for running the white nationalist Breitbart publication. Though Boteach has served as a celebrity rabbi on a number of reality television shows, leading Jewish religious authorities have dismissed his writings as heretical.
The ad, purchased by Boteach’s World Values Network, goes to great lengths to malign Lorde, the government of New Zealand, and the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (“BDS”) Israel, for expressing varying degrees of dissent against the State of Israel. However, the ad constitutes objective support for the very same boycott movement for several reasons.
First, the ad itself is remarkably unhinged. Outrageously, the ad suggests that Lorde supports Syrian regime atrocities because she is playing a show in Russia, which supports the Syrian government; that is, Lorde is being accused of supporting the crimes of one country because she is playing a show in an entirely different country that happens to have friendly diplomatic relations with the first. And although the ad, in passing, points out that Russia has committed human rights abuses of its own, the ad does not consider that, as of yet, critics of Russia’s abuses have not called upon Lorde to cancel her Russia show. That means that, as of yet, Lorde is not crossing a proverbial picket line by performing in Russia, as she was doing by originally planning a show in Tel Aviv.
The ad also expends much ink criticizing the behavior of the New Zealand government for joining virtually the entire world in condemning Donald Trump’s decision to legitimate Israel’s land grab over Jerusalem – a criticism that is entirely unrelated to Lorde. The bizarre argumentation of the ad leaves the reader with the impression that the ad is not a meaningful criticism of Lorde, but a piece of poorly drafted war propaganda grasping at straws to sling mud at the performer.
Second, Lorde is a sensitive target. The accomplished 21-year-old singer is adamantly committed to feminism, gay rights, and challenging race privilege, and has a fanbase of young people committed to the same worldview. To smear such a delicate target as Lorde as a “bigot,” let alone an agent of a joint Russo-Syrian-New Zealander conspiracy to defend war crimes in Syria, has the tendency to reflect more poorly on the accuser – and the Israeli government he is defending – than the target of the ad.
But finally, and most importantly, Boteach’s ad disincentivizes other performers from playing shows in Israel. The ad contrasts Lorde’s decision to cancel her Tel Aviv show with a litany of other performers who chose to perform in Tel Aviv in spite of calls to boycott. To many critics of the movement to boycott Israel, there is nothing political about playing a show in Israel, and to play a show in Tel Aviv is not the same as making a political statement in defense of the Israeli government.
But Boteach’s ad makes it clear that such a belief is a farce, and that whatever the intentions of performers who play in Tel Aviv, their performances will inevitably be used by unhinged right-wing extremists to defend the Israeli state and to smear those who cancel shows. Boteach’s decision to contrast Lorde with other performers effectively sends a message to all other performers considering shows in Tel Aviv: your one-night performance can and will be used, even years after the fact, by right-wing extremists in America as part of a propaganda war against other people in your industry and in defense of policies that you may not even be aware of and crimes that may not have yet occurred.
Given that most celebrities simply want to avoid controversy, the ad hardly encourages anyone else to book a show in Tel Aviv any time soon.
The movement to boycott Israel has come under tremendous strain in recent years. High-profile smear campaigns against those who have boycotted have emerged alongside laws in various nations aligned with Israel to censor the boycott. One wonders how such a minimal movement motivated by the principle of “Do No Harm” could provoke such ardent and zealous backlash from those in power. And yet, like most movements of the powerless, the attempts to crush it inevitably help it grow.