Justine Sachs shares much in common with many Jews throughout the world. Politically, the New Zealander is very liberal. This puts her in good company with the substantial majority of Jews in the Diaspora. In fact, Ms. Sachs likely would consider herself “progressive”, again aligning herself with much of Diaspora Jewry. Where Ms. Sachs parts company is in the lengths she will go to activate her political opinions. In mid-December she joined New Zealand-Palestinian activist Nadia Abu-Shanab in penning a letter to young New Zealand singer Lorde asking Lorde to cancel her plans to sing in Israel in June.
Not one to mix words, Ms. Sachs noted in the website The Spinoff that she is a member of “Dayenu…a group of young New Zealand Jews against the occupation of Palestine… The driving principle of Dayenu is saying ‘enough’ to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.” The rest of the letter was filled with the normal invective against Israel, claiming that Israelis “stole” Palestinian land and that Israel practices “apartheid”. “Today,” Ms. Sachs and Ms. Abu-Shanab continued, “millions of people stand opposed to the Israeli government’s policies of oppression, ethnic cleansing, human rights violations, occupation and apartheid. As part of this struggle, we believe that an economic, intellectual and artistic boycott is an effective way of speaking out against these crimes.”
The appeal worked. 21-year old Lorde cancelled her Tel Aviv concert.
Curiously, Lorde retained her concert dates in Russia. This despite the fact that Ms. Sachs pandered to her, saying that “as fans of yours, we know that you’re an empathetic artist who is committed to the empowerment of women, the LGBTQ community and people of colour.” Russia, of course, has brutal laws against the LGBTQ community and is not a portrait of tolerance in dealing with “people of colour”. Ms. Sachs had nothing to say about that. She contented herself with Israel’s perceived sins.
I doubt Lorde expected the furious backlash. Israeli and Jewish groups around the world lambasted her. Numerous entertainment industry executives issued a press release from the “Creative Community for Peace” saying they were “deeply disappointed that Lorde cancelled her show in Tel Aviv”. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who became famous calling himself “Michael Jackson’s lawyer”, took out a full page ad in the Washington Post stating that “21 is Young to Become a Bigot”. Roseanne Barr and Howard Stern joined in, also blasting Lorde as a bigot and other non-complimentary terms. Perhaps most telling, Ringo Starr confirmed two future shows in Israel. Apparently the Beatles legend was not impressed with the moral stance of a 21 year old New Zealand girl.
This past week was no better for Lorde. She felt the sting of isolation herself when last Sunday at the Grammy she was the only nominee for Album of the Year not invited to perform solo. The boycotter did not like being boycotted.
But while the focus has been all on Lorde, what of Ms. Sachs and her Jewish compatriots in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel? This week they were sued in Israel by fans of Lorde who claimed “emotional distress”. That seems silly, but the issue is profound. What type of thinking goes into believing that it is a good idea to label Israel an international pariah and an “Apartheid State” over the Palestinian situation? What are the consequences?
For Ms. Sachs, the potential consequences be damned. To her, this issue is so important, and Israel’s position so indefensible, that it justifies trying to isolate Israel in the world. Just 70 years after the creation of the State, many in the “progressive movement” are so repulsed by Israel that they think it needs to be singled out for censure. In doing so they hope to weaken Israel to the extent that it will be forced to retreat back to the June 4, 1967 cease fire lines.
Here is a simple question for these radical progressives (who to be sure do not constitute all progressives). What if you’re wrong? What if you succeed in forcing Israel back, but that does not bring peace? What if instead it brings only an aggressive and murderous foe bent on Israel’s destruction to the center of Jerusalem and to within 9 miles of the Mediterranean Sea, needing only a twenty minute tank assault to cut Israel in two? What then?
The Palestinian situation is not easy. Millions of Arabs live without citizenship rights. Many remain committed to Israel’s destruction. There has been no functioning Palestinian popular government even after the 1993 Oslo Accords. There also have been periodic spasms of mass terrorism. Following the collapse of the Camp David process in 2000, Palestinians launched a huge terror wave. Israeli parents had to choose between either erecting an unsightly and unseemly separation barrier and continually going to their loved ones’ funerals. Not surprisingly, they chose the “Apartheid Wall”. International howling exploded, but the terrorism mostly stopped.
None of this background, of course, satisfies the progressive supporters of BDS. Completely convinced of their morality, they stop at little to force the Jewish State back to the 1967 lines. If their propaganda is picked up by anti-Semitic radicals or if it reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes, so be it. The cause is far more important. If they succeed in forcing Israel back but there is no peace – well that can’t happen. Palestinians are “oppressed”. Once the oppression stops Palestinian realism will begin – or so the radical progressives say. Most of us would engage in circumspection at this point. The BDS’ers don’t.
For 2,000 years Jews prayed for a Return to Zion. During nearly all that time this was nothing but a pipe dream. Incredibly, it’s now a reality. Yet to those on the far left, support for Israel is not something to celebrate but to condemn. How unspeakably sad.
If, to accept the UN terminology, Israel is an “occupier”, it is not the only one. China occupies Tibet, Turkey occupies Northern Cyprus, Russia occupies parts of both Georgia and Ukraine. The list goes much further. How many ethnic Chinese, however, would write Lorde and demand that she not play in Beijing until China ends being an “Apartheid State” to Tibetans?
At a purely intellectual level the position of the Jewish supporters of BDS can be rationalized. We Jews consider ourselves “God’s Chosen People”. It is our job as Jews to help perfect the world. We’re inbred, cliquish and clannish. We don’t proselytize, we annoy. If the one Jewish State doesn’t live up to the ideals of our religion, then how can we insist others do?
On Earth however that intellectual insistence on existential perfection has concrete adverse consequences. Ms. Sachs’ goal is to cause economic, political and social damage to the Jewish State. In that way it will follow her ideals and retreat from the “Occupied Territories.” Having never met the woman, I don’t doubt her sincerity. But isn’t it just possible that this boycott she seeks also will weaken Israel in a way that makes it easier for Israel’s avowed enemies (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS etc.) to destroy her? Isn’t it possible that Ms. Sachs’ complete lack of nuance actually encourages those who might be on the fence to believe that Israel truly is a cancer that must be excised from the body of nations?
Ms. Sachs certainly persuaded Lorde, to Lorde’s eternal detriment. How ironic it is that had Lorde simply played Tel Aviv, few would have noticed. What adverse impact did playing Israel have on Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake or Rihanna? Instead, Lorde is an international controversy. Having tried to strike a blow against bigotry and injustice, she now is its poster child. Lorde hates Jews (won’t play for them). Lorde hates Gays (will play for their oppressors in Russia even after being told about their anti-Gay laws). Who else does Lorde hate?
All this is pretty complex stuff for a 21-year old. If she now cancels her Russia gigs after ditching Israel, where can she play? Can she really play at home and perpetuate the Caucasian dispossession of Maori land? Can she play in Madrid, where the government is refusing Catalan desires for independence? Shouldn’t she talk to Basques before agreeing to play in Paris? Should she educate herself on the racial Japanese citizenship laws before playing Tokyo?
Being a Social Justice Warrior is tough.
What it requires is the ability to draw lines. That is where she, and most certainly Ms. Sachs, completely fail. There are some easy calls (don’t play Pyongyang), but beyond that it’s not so clear. Ms. Sachs justifies her existence in New Zealand by ignoring it. She has no problem living as an occupier in land that once was ruled by others and was taken by force of arms. She will go to great lengths, though, to try to force Israelis to cleanse what she perceives as their sins.
See to your own wounds Ms. Sachs, and please be good enough to leave the rest of us alone. You’ve succeeded in placing a gullible young entertainer in a spotlight from which there will be no easy way to extricate herself. Before you throw morality at the next performer, justify yourself first. When you do, we all should give you the complete lack of understanding and empathy that you, and your fellow BDS’ers, give Israel.