Demi Lovato and the case for the cultural boycott of Israel

The American entertainer Demi Lovato has been making headlines recently, as it was revealed that she had taken a $150,000 trip to Israel, funded by the Israeli government and private donors, in exchange for what she termed as “a few posts”, that is, social media posts favorable to Israel. While it is clear that the Israeli government paid for over a third of it, details of the other financiers are still in the dark – but it doesn’t matter too much. It’s clear, that Demi Lovato went on a hasbara (Israeli propaganda) trip.

Even if we are just to look at the confirmed Israeli government investment of $57,000, it’s enough. I can manage a luxurious trip with just that, thank you very much. But it wasn’t about leisure – it was all about “brand Israel”.

Following the backlash on social media, Lovato had at first feigned ignorance, in a quickly deleted Instagram post:

I’m extremely frustrated. I accepted a free trip to Israel in exchange for a few posts. No one told me there would be anything wrong with going or that or that I could possibly be offending anyone.

Her mother, who had accompanied her on the trip, jumped to her rescue, writing on Instagram about Jerusalem:  

There was no fighting, no judgement, no cruel words… only love. And I will undoubtedly, unapologetically go again one day.”

Demi Lovato accepted an all expense paid trip to Israel in exchange for positive social media promotion and is now wondering what is wrong with that.

British author Kamila Shamsie helps provide an answer. Shamsie, who is of Pakistani heritage, has recently been stripped of a prize by the city of Dortmund since they found that she supports Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. She spoke on British Channel 4, explaining the logic of BDS and the cultural boycott in particular:

And there’s also the matter of the way in which the Israeli state has used culture. And you know, they very much use it as propaganda. You had statements from within the Israeli Foreign Ministry saying things like ‘there is no difference between culture and propaganda’. So to then say ‘well, why cultural boycott?’ – well, because culture has been weaponized by the state already.

The Israeli Ministry that confirmed the $57,000 was the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry. This indicates that Jerusalem was a central part of the propaganda stunt, and this is not surprising, as Israel is fighting hard to cement and normalize the notion of Jerusalem being a ‘united capital’, rather than a city living under occupation, with East Jerusalem annexed in flagrant violation of international law. Thus, It is not surprising that Jerusalem features centrally in Demi Lovato’s mother’s post. Israel did this also in its promotions of the recent Eurovision song contest hosted in Tel Aviv, where the hosts mocked the notion of ‘occupation’, promoted the “beloved capital, golden Jerusalem” (with Al Aqsa in the background), and the public broadcaster used videos to market even Syrian occupied territories as ‘Israel’.

This is simply how Israel operates. If you’re a celebrity – Israel will seek to use you for propaganda purposes. Demi Lovato says that “no one told her”. So I’m telling her, and everyone, right now. If you’re naïve about Israel, you’re just playing the fool.

There is a BDS call, it comes from Palestinian civil society, and it is a response to Israeli violations against Palestinians which manage to pass with impunity. That Demi Lovato didn’t think (or wasn’t told) that violating this picket line could be offending anybody is a problem. It is not neutral to go to Israel this way – it’s squarely on the side of the oppressor. Israeli apologists regularly present the boycott of culture as malicious, since culture is supposedly for ‘building bridges’ and is not about politics. But as we can see, for Israel, culture is also definitely about politics, and these things are unfortunately inextricable. Israel makes the case for boycotting it better than anyone.  

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