Through the World Values Network, which he founded in 2007, Boteach faces the claims made by boycott supporters in conferences and lecturers, books (including The Israel Warrior: Fighting Back for the Jewish State from Campus to Street Corner) and extensive media activity.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, former US President Barack Obama, Hamas leaders, the emirs of Qatar and others have been at the center of previous media campaigns launched by Boteach, but it seems he never received so many reactions and so much media coverage like he did following the ad he placed in the Washington Post on Sunday against New Zealand singer Lorde, who decided to cancel her planned performance in Israel following pressure from the BDS movement.
“21 is young to become a bigot,” states the full-page ad dedicated to the international pop star, who explained she had decided to back out of the Tel Aviv concert after receiving many appeals which made her reconsider her decision to perform in Israel. Public appeals from Israel’s Ambassador to New Zealand Itzhak Gerberg and from Culture Minister Miri Regev failed to change her mind.
Rabbi Boteach launched an attack on the young singer, accusing her of hypocrisy, racism and Jew-hatred. His words were quoted all over the world creating a buzz.
“This is not a personal attack on Lorde, and to be honest, I never heard of her before,” he explains in an interview to Ynet. “I’m sure she’s a brilliant artist, but the truth is I’m unfamiliar with her music. We published the ad because she is a highly influential singer, especially among the young generation, and she decided to attack Israel and team up with BDS.”
Boteach’s main argument is that Lorde’s international concert tour this year includes performance in two Russian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. “Our ad is saying to Lorde: ‘Seriously? You claim to be a human rights activist and you call off your performance in Israel, although you admit you know nothing about the country, while at the same time you’re going to perform in Putin’s Russia? Are you kidding us?’
“Putin is a synonym for destruction of democracy and suppression of political rights. He is the ally of Bashar Assad in Syria. This proves that Lorde is totally hypocritical,” the rabbi states. “Had she said that she didn’t want to be controversial and go to problematic places like Russia or Israel, she would have at least acted according to a uniform guideline. But by singling out Israel, she is joining a long tradition of harassment of Jews.”
Do you think Lorde is really driven by an anti-Semitic ideology? She may have cancelled the show to avoid getting involved in this political dispute.
“We never called her an anti-Semite, but we did call her a bigot, and we stand behind it. When she decides to go against one people and ignores another, it’s classic racism. It isn’t my job or anyone’s job to try to understand Lorde’s motivation, whether she caved under BDS pressure or whether it happened because she woke up in the morning with a headache.
“Moral acts have nothing to do with moral intentions. We don’t have to try to understand why people hate Israel, we have to fight for Israel. Joining the BDS is equivalent to hating Israel, because their goal is to destroy the state. I am a Jew, and I’m sick and tired of the attacks on my people.”
Aren’t you being too hard on her? Isn't she just a young singer who has never taken a stand on the issue before?
“Twenty-one is a pretty mature age, with responsibility. Besides, she’s an international star. She’s mature enough to deal with all the pressure of being an admired celebrity around the world, but she can’t face pressure from a few people from New Zealand who wrote to her on social media? Is that all it takes to make her cancel the show? Is her morality that fragile? That makes her even more guilty. I do hope, for her sake, that she has a stronger moral standing and that she really believes Israel is acting inappropriately. If that’s the case, it’s our duty to prove her wrong.”
The Washington Post ad also slams Lorde’s homeland of New Zealand, whose pro-Palestinian foreign policy is reflected in its vote in favor of a United Nations resolution against the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“How is this any of their concern? Israel is so far away from them. New Zealand is getting carried away by the worldwide anti-Israel flow,” Rabbi Boteach says. “The politicians’ decisions are possibly penetrating the young generation. Otherwise, where did Lorde get the idea to cancel her performance?”
New Zealand’s Jewish Council, by the way, distanced itself from the ad, stating that Lorde shouldn’t be bullied over her decision.
Boteach is a Chabad member and one of the most famous rabbis in the United States. He was known as a close friend of late “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, and is aware of celebrities’ influence on public opinion. That may be the reason the ad against Lorde created such a buzz, although Boteach believes it also indicates that common American citizens have had enough of the stars taking a stand.
“Culture and pop music have a great impact on people’s lives,” he says. “Our goal is to get them out and make them voice their opinion. This is the silent majority. The ad is being covered by the media and has gone viral. Israel has many supporters, and they are sick and tired of artists and pop stars see themselves as having a moral sense of good and bad, when many of them having a broken moral compass.”
According to Boteach, Lorde was urged to cancel the concert by BDS activists and former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who has become the movement’s vocal leader.
“The only ones who support Lorde are hate-filled enemies of Israel who have a strong presence in social media. Roger Waters, one of the most outspoken voices behind BDS, is a devout and radical anti-Semite. Not only does he hate Israel, he hates Israel because it’s a Jewish state,” Boteach explains.
“Is there anyone who can understand his hatred? But I’m not here to understand him. I’m not Roger Waters or Lorde’s psychiatrist. My job, as a Jew and as an American, is to defend Israel in the loudest manner and support human rights. If Lorde is serious about being a human rights activist, she must condemn the greatest humanitarian disaster in the Middle East today, which is the dreadful massacre of 500,000 Arabs by the tyrant from Damascus.”
What would you expect Lorde to do in light of the pressure to cancel her visit?
“Even if she identifies with some of the BDS ideas, the right thing to do would have been to admit that she had made a commitment to perform, keep her word, come to Israel and then perhaps meet with Palestinian representatives and listen to what they have to say. That would have been the respectable thing to do. The cancellation may indicate that she is spineless, but what does that say about her? I believe Lorde when she writes that she has always dreamed of visiting Israel, but between wanting to perform in Israel and changing her mind, or making a cynical decision so as not to be boycotted by BDS, or wanting to pretend to be human rights activist—that has nothing to do with me. I’m not a mind reader.”
One of the most concerning things when it comes to the clash between BDS and organizations like Boteach’s World Values Network is that artists who get caught in the middle might prefer to avoid performing to their fans in the Holy Land, but Boteach doesn’t seem troubled by that.
“Honestly, the issue isn’t whether international artists will perform in Israel or not,” he says. “I love culture, music and art, but Israel will survive even without visits from international artists. While their presence does contribute to the community’s enrichment and development, Israel will keep existing whether or not they arrive. The issue is whether Israel is being slandered.
“Lorde chose to avoid coming to Israel. So be it. But the fact that she chose to boycott Israel is a totally different matter. Israel will survive without Lorde. It will be difficult for her fans, because she’s talented and so special and amazing. Without her, many Israelis will be depressed for many years, but they’ll overcome somehow,” he jokes.
“The issue,” he clarifies, “isn’t whether she will perform in Israel, or Lady Gaga, who is a great friend of Israel, or even Paul McCartney, who is very fond of the Jewish people, or Michael Jackson, who chose me as his rabbi and did perform in Israel. Israel’s survival doesn’t depend on them but on the possibility that the state will be boycotted and slandered in the rest of the world.”
Aren’t you playing into BDS’s hands by responding to their campaigns?
“I wish it were true that BDS was so small and insignificant, and that we were only providing them with exposure by addressing them. Unfortunately, it isn’t true. The Jewish community was taken by surprise. The Jewish people’s problem is that we always tend to think that no one will believe the lies being spread about us. It has happened time and again throughout history, and Jews have died as a result.
“When Roger Waters tried to stop artists from coming to Israel, we said to ourselves there was no point in responding and that no one would join him, and we were wrong. I believe the Jewish people should take every lie being spread about them seriously.”
Boteach thinks the fight over public opinion should be waged with the same tools adopted by BDS in its efficient campaign. “If Lorde was just stressed out by BDS activists and doesn’t actually believe their ideology, it only goes to show how important it is to counterbalance this organization and respond to it. Israel lovers should exert equal pressure to prevent people from joining the attack,” he says, expressing his appreciation for the rival for being small yet sophisticated and effective.
“What we can learn from BDS is that a small group of radical activists can slander an entire state and an entire people, which is why it’s important not to disregard them. When Lorde joins BDS, we can say ‘who cares?’ but we can’t dismiss it. We have learned from their activity. They are organized and efficient. The Jews must wake up.”
How can we Israelis help Diaspora Jews in their battle over the state’s reputation?
“I believe there is a great lack of communication between Diaspora Jews and Israelis when it comes to the threat. Diaspora Jews can’t imagine what it feels like to live in the shadow of terror threats. On the other hand, Israelis who are surrounded by other Jews—whether left-wing or right-wing, who all love the state—don’t understand what we Diaspora Jews have to deal with all the time. Israelis can help us by understanding the extent of the threat.
“I’m glad Ynet is addressing this issue, because so far, we have only been approached by journalists from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Israelis are underestimating Lorde’s cancellation, saying it’s ‘not a big deal.’ They don’t understand that there is an international movement urging sanctions against in Israel, especially in Europe. And as soon as the first sanctions are approved, it will be a tremendous danger.”