In a Facebook message posted Wednesday, Dr. Itzhak Gerberg, the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand, responded to the news that pop singer Lorde, a New Zealand native, had canceled a planned Tel Aviv concert.
The 21-year-old writer and performer, born Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, had decided not to perform in the city after fans and activists launched a sustained social media campaign asking the singer not to hold a concert there, given Israel's policies and behaviors toward Palestinians.
Lorde is one of many artists that have made similar decisions, or found themselves criticized for performing in the country. In the past, Elvis Costello, Lauryn Hill and Gorillaz have either pulled out of shows scheduled in Israel, or stated they would not perform there until the political situation changes. Conversely, Madonna, Radiohead and Nick Cave all booked recent concerts in Israel despite significant fan backlash.
In his Facebook message, Ambassador Gerberg wrote, "It is regrettable that you have cancelled your concert in Tel Aviv and have disappointed all your fans in Israel." He continued, "Music is a wonderful language of tolerance and friendship, which brings people together. Your concert in Israel could have spread the message that solutions come from constructive engagement that leads to compromise and cooperation. Music should unite not divide and your performance in Israel could have contributed to the spirit of hope and peace in the Middle East."
Currently, Palestinian access to areas outside of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is highly monitored and restricted. It is unclear if a significant amount of Palestinians would have been able to make their way to the concert site. It is even less likely they could afford to buy tickets.
According to the UN, the average GDP for occupants of the Palestinian territories was $1,349.9 in 2015 with a 26.6 percent unemployment rate in 2014. Some figures have overall GDP climbing in recent years, but the World Bank painted a darker picture in 2016. In the U.S., average ticket prices for a Lorde concert start at $50 and climb to over $1,000.
Given the economic and political situation, it is wholly unclear how the concert could have been a serious opportunity to "unite not divide" Palestinians and Israelis given the probable makeup of the crowd.
It's also worth remembering that Gerberg was briefly recalled from his post in December of last year by the Israeli government in response to New Zealand's support of UN resolution 2334, which condemned Israel for expanding its West Bank–settlement program in violation of international law. It is hard to see such politicking as "constructive engagement that leads to compromise and cooperation."
Gerberg continued his open letter to Lorde, famous for her hit song, "Royals," by saying, "Boycott and hate on the other hand, represents hostility and intolerance 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." While the goals and tactics of the "BDS" movement are certainly up for debate, there is no evidence that it "denies the first of the State of Israel to exist."
As former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters said in an editorial for Salon in 2014, "Some wrongly portray the boycott movement, which is modeled on the boycotts employed against Apartheid South Africa and used in the U.S. civil rights movement, to be an attack on the Israeli people or even on the Jewish people, as a whole." He continued, "Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement recognizes universal human rights under the law for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or color."
Gerberg finished by saying to Lorde, "I invite you to meet me in person to discuss Israel, its achievements and its role as the only democracy in the Middle East."
Elsewhere, Gerberg was quoted as saying, "First I would tell [Lorde] Israel is a beautiful country and a democracy, and then I would tell her the BDS (The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement), the people who ... convinced her to cancel the concert, are using her as a political tool."
The movement to get Lorde to cancel her concert gained wide support and visibility, particularly after activists Nadia Abu-Shanab and Justine Sachs posted an open letter to the singer on the New Zealand edition of The Spinoff. "A performance in Israel sends the wrong message," they wrote. "Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation. Such an effect cannot be undone by even the best intention and the best music."
When artist Joönî Revånche tweeted the article at Lorde, she responded that she was, "speaking w many people about this and considering all options. Thank u for educating me i am learning all the time too."
Subsequently, Lorde would formally cancel the show in a statement that read, "i pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and i had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in tel aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit i didn’t make the right call on this one. tel aviv, it’s been a dream of mine to visit this beautiful part of the world for many years, and i’m truly sorry to reverse my commitment to come play for you. i hope one day we can all dance."
Since her announcement, Lorde has collected praise for the decision as well as criticism from by pro-Israel voices, including comedian Rosanne Barr who called the singer a "bigot".