Say it ain’t so Eddie.
Eddie Vedder, the front man of Pearl Jam, has been accused of criticizing Israel during a concert in England earlier this month. Vedder’s track record on Israel was not great to begin with. Though Pearl Jam has a large fan base in Israel, it has never performed in the country with all its members – specifically, without Vedder.
During his performance in England, Vedder said: “They’re looking for a reason to go across borders and take over land that doesn’t belong to them, and they should get the f**k out, mind their own f**cking business … We don’t want to give them our money. They don’t get our taxes to drop bombs on children.”
Although he never mentioned Israel by name, various YouTube users left comments expressing outrage at the possibility that he was referring to the Israeli military operation currently underway in the Gaza Strip.
It hurts when a celebrity you admire says things that run counter to your beliefs. It is particularly painful when it comes to Israel, given the misguided boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and other propaganda that seeks to undermine Israel’s very existence. What should we do when a favorite singer, athlete or comedian unfairly criticizes Israel? Should we end our fandom?
In addition to Vedder, musicians such as Roger Waters, Elvis Costello and Santana have also refused to play in Israel. Waters, of Pink Floyd, has been particularly relentless in his criticism. He frequently calls on other musicians – most recently Neil Young – to join his boycott of Israel. He has even gone so far as to compare Israel with Nazi Germany, and to fly a pig with a Star of David at his concerts.
Waters is an extreme case, and his actions border on outright anti-Semitism, but what about other celebrities who simply express support, or just sympathy, for the Palestinians?
Singer Rihanna and Houston Rockets basketball star Dwight Howard came under fire last week for posting “#FreePalestine” on their Twitter accounts, and even Madonna, the famous Kabbalah devotee who has visited Israel many times, caught flack from fans for posting a picture of the murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir on Instagram with a call for both sides to stop the violence. She later posted a photo of the three murdered Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, with another call for peace.
Papa don’t preach, but should Madonna?
First, we need to recognize that sympathy for the Palestinian people and support of Israel are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are very much intertwined. The Jewish tradition values all human life and deplores human suffering. We see these values in the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in their laudable efforts to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. Given the dense population and deplorable Hamas leadership, this is an impossible task, but nevertheless Israel is trying to adhere to the words of Torah and international law.
Sympathy for Palestinians and support of Israel are also connected by political reality. It is impossible to plan for Israel’s future without taking into account the Palestinians’ plight. Statements by celebrities that sympathize with Palestinian suffering are different than those that unfairly slander Israel.
We know that words matter. They have the power to bless or to curse, to give encouragement or to cause great hurt, to be a source of strength or of weakness. Jewish tradition has understood this for centuries, and words are even more powerful today, with our ability to broadcast them around the world in seconds. Like it or not, the words of celebrities, who rarely qualify as experts, get more attention than more reputable and thoughtful sources of commentary.
With this in mind, it might be easy to simply dismiss your favorite singer’s words and go on listening as though nothing happened. We could become, if you will, comfortably numb.
This is one way to read a statement from the Talmud that applies here: “If a person hears something unseemly, he should put his fingers in his ears.” We can tune out the anti-Israel rhetoric and tune in to our favorite songs.
Yet we could also understand this statement in the opposite way. An egregious viewpoint expressed by a performer can trigger our own boycott. We can put our fingers in our ears to everything they have to say and sing. Delete their music, sell their jersey, stop watching their shows. We can drop the leash (Pearl Jam fans can fill in the next line), and be fans no more.
As I have heard about these comments from members of bands on my playlists, I have taken them out of my listening rotation. As much as I have enjoyed the music of Vedder, Waters and Costello in the past, I don’t get the same joy out of listening to them now as I once did.
I feel sad about this, both as a music fan and as someone who believes in open debate and dialogue. But there is no open debate here; using a celebrity pulpit to misrepresent the serious challenges that Israel and the Palestinians face certainly does not encourage any constructive dialogue. This type of reckless advocacy only continues to fuel a conflict that these stars claim they want to see come to an end.
So Eddie, I’ve had fun spinning your black circle. You don’t know, but you’ve chased me away.
Rabbi Micah Peltz is a Conservative rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.