Pimping for Israel: Lady Gaga, Madonna and Dionne Warwick

Airheads for Israel: so much for Gaga's 'radical' pretences
Airheads for Israel: so much for Gaga’s ‘radical’ pretences

by Philip Ferguson

The Israeli state was built upon the dispossession of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.  The Palestinians forced to flee the country at the sharp end of terror from the murderous repressive forces of the new exclusivist, Zionist state largely ended up as impoverished refugees in camps in Gaza, south Lebanon, the West Bank and other nearby areas.

It took several decades for them to recover and start to build their own politico-military movements to fight for their liberation, through the establishment of a democratic secular state covering the whole area of Palestine/Israel.  This would be a state in which Palestinian, Jew, Christian, atheist and anyone else would have equal rights as citizens.  The left-wing of the Palestinian movement, most especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, argued that such a liberated society would be a socialist one.

By contrast, the Israeli state has continued to be an exclusivist state, thoroughly enmeshed in the global imperialist system of oppressors.  It denies any right of Palestinians to return to their homes within its borders.  Those Palestinians who didn’t flee have consistently been treated as second-class citizens.  Meanwhile anyone of Jewish descent can migrate to Israel and enjoy full rights of citizenship.

Murderously repressive

The existence of the exclusivist Israeli state also requires regular murderous assaults on Gaza and daily repression in the still-occupied West Bank.  Moreover, the West Bank is subjected to continuing and growing Israeli settlements, preventing the formation of any real Palestinian state there and, needless to say, in complete violation of international law.  (As Marxists, we don’t have much truck with international law; I mention this simply because the backers of Israel in the US and elsewhere claim to be upholders of the rule of law.)

While there is an important difference between Israel and South Africa – Israel isn’t built upon a mass of cheap Palestinian labour the way apartheid South Africa was on a cheap and vast pool of black labour and public facilities are not segregated along racialised lines – Israel is at least, possibly even more, murderously repressive of the Palestinians.  Moreover, it actually removed the majority of the Palestinians from their homeland.

So Israel is the kind of country which, like South Africa during the apartheid era, progressive, ‘alternative’ and genuinely anti-establishment people would be campaigning against.

Gaga for the repressive state

One of the figures in music – I hesitate to call her a musician – who has built her image on being ‘cutting edge’ and ‘alternative’ is Stefani Germanotta, better known by her stage name of Lady Gaga.  I’ve never been a fan, as she has always struck me as being highly derivative, unoriginal and a kind of (less-talented) version of Madonna.  Something else she has in common with Madonna is being a fan and apologist for the viciously-repressive and racist Israeli state.

Gaga showed just how conventionally money-grubbing and non-alternative she is by playing in Israel last September and stating she “fucking loves” this repressive place.  Her support for the Israeli state and its terrorism against the Palestinians subsequently inspired a group of students at New York University to organise on-campus support for Israel and opposition to Israeli Apartheid Awareness Week.

While Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank struggle to make ends meet and even find the basic necessities of survival, thanks to Israeli assaults and sieges, the airhead Gaga declares she “felt a beautiful energy” in Tel Aviv and “the world view of Israel is just not reality” (this after a day or two there, and having met no Palestinians).  At her Tel Aviv gig the odious airhead declared, “Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves, you are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I fucking love you, Israel.”

Well, since her fans in Israel were paying NIS1,450 – that’s about NZ$511! – to get a seat near the stage – I guess she would “love” them, even though she doesn’t actually know them personally.

Sun City boycott

During the apartheid period, one of the racist regime’s ploys to alleviate its international pariah status was to encourage musicians from elsewhere to play at the Sun City venue.  In exchange for lending a hand to the apartheid system and making it look good, they were hugely rewarded financially.  Among those who played Sun City were some people who really should have known better, like Tina Turner.  Although Turner had experienced much racism and violence in her life, she was happy enough to take the money to pretend South Africa was not based on violence and racism against the black majority.

Today, folks like Gaga and Madonna, while being ‘outspoken’ around entirely safe issues, are helping prop up a state not only built on the dispossession of the Palestinians but continuing to dispossess Palestinians in the West Bank everyday, while blockading Gaza, one of the poorest areas of the world.

In the 1980s a campaign began, spearheaded by Steve van Zandt, of Bruce Springsteen’s band, to build up a boycott of Sun City.  It became progressively harder for money-grubbing musicians to play there as a result.  Today, a few musicians, like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, are trying to do the same in relation to Israel.  Waters has supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement since it began and has been trying to discourage fellow musicians from playing in Israel.

The usual ‘defence’ offered by musicians going to Israel is one that many of us from the days of the anti-apartheid movement are familiar with.  Back then, people acting as enablers of apartheid would justify playing sport or performing musically there by claiming “sport and political don’t mix” and “music knows no frontiers”.  This sort of rationale was totally spurious because sport in South Africa was permeated with politics, not least because apartheid kept white and black sportspeople apart.  The same with music.

Dionne Warwick on the wonders of Israel

A couple of days ago another enabler of the continuing oppression of the Palestinians, Dionne Warwick, lashed out at Waters and declared her love for the racist state.  After Lauryn Hill cancelled performing in Israel, Warwick was reported in the Jerusalem Post as telling the paper, ““art has no boundaries” and that she “would never fall victim to the hard pressures of Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, or other political people who have their views on politics in Israel”.

In response to questions from the paper, she further stated she was no stranger to Israel, and has visited the country several times. “I always enjoy the wonderful audiences that Israel brings out! I think of the colorful people and the beautiful scenery.”

Perhaps Warwick should visit Gaza and the remaining Palestinian areas in the West Bank and see what “beautiful scenery” her beloved Israel has created there through decades of occupation, land-stealing and settler vandalism of Palestinian land, and horrendous Israeli state bombing campaigns, the most recent of which left well over 2,000 Palestinians dead in Gaza over seven weeks in which they rained down bombs on schools, hospitals, churches and homes.

Then again, for Warwick, the Palestinians seem to be completely invisible.

Dionne Warwick playing in Israel, however, comes as no surprise.  She has form.  As Roger Waters noted in a response to her Jerusalem Post statements, “you crossed the picket line to play Sun City at the height of the anti-apartheid movement.”  So black South Africans, and their oppression under apartheid, were also invisible to Warwick.

Roger Waters also noted, “It strikes me as deeply disingenuous of Ms. Warwick to try to cast herself as a potential victim here. The victims are the occupied people of Palestine with no right to vote and the unequal Palestinian citizens of Israel, including Bedouin Israeli citizens of the village of al-Araqib, which has now been bulldozed 83 times by order of the Israeli government.”

Art, boundaries, empathy

And in response to her self-serving pretentious bullshit about “art knows no boundaries”, Waters declared,art does know boundaries. In fact, it is an absolute responsibility of artists to stand up for human rights – social, political and religious – on behalf of all our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed, whoever and wherever they may be on the surface of this small planet.”

However, he also appealed to her on a more personalised level: “Dionne, I am of your generation.  I remember the road to Montgomery, I remember Selma, I remember the struggles against the Jim Crow laws here. Sadly, we are still fighting those battles, whether here in the USA in Ferguson or Baltimore, or in Gaza or the Negev, wherever the oppressed need us to raise our voices unafraid.  We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, our brothers and sisters, until true equality and justice are won.”

But it looks like Warwick doesn’t give a shit about the oppression of blacks in the United States either.  She’s part of the wealthy elite now and her mindset is the same as the white bourgeoisie.  Class trumps race, again.

Waters is to be applauded for his stand on Israel; it is certainly in stark contrast to the likes of Madonna and Gaga and now Dionne Warwick.  It’s good to have artists of integrity.  People who stand up to be counted on basic principles and who therefore support campaigns such as BDS.

Solidarity with the struggle for emancipation

While BDS is an important part of the struggle against the Israeli state, there is another, even more important, aspect to the issue of the oppression of the Palestinians.  That is linking ourselves with the Palestinians’ own struggle for self-emancipation.

We need to be wary about substituting ourselves and our concerns, however well-intentioned, for the Palestinians’ own liberation struggle.

As well as BDS, we need the most progressive elements of the working class and left to build a movement that is specifically in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and, particularly, with its most progressive sections, like the PFLP.  That is why, on Redline, we quite prominently feature statements by and articles about the PFLP.

Further reading:
For a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle 


  1. When she performed in Israel, Madonna draped herself in the Israeli flag – the flag that stands for seven years of crimes against the Palestinians.

    You can’t help wondering if people like her and Gaga would’ve played in Germany in the 1930s and draped themselves in the German flag.

    Rich white women whose main message is “love yourself” – as if rich white women didn’t already do plenty of that. Meanwhile, lacking completely in empathy for the downtrodden masses of the world, except in so far as they can pillage the oppressed’s children as fashion accessories.

    I stopped buying Madonna records after she draped herself in the Israeli flag. Fortunately, there are enough pop singers with a few principles whose records can be bought without the stomach heaving.

  2. Among those not playing Israel are Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello, Salif Keita, the Pixies. Bruce Springsteen has also avoided Israel, although I don’t know if he’s formally supported the boycott.

    Old 60s has-been rebels-turned-establishment-drones like the Stones and Paul McCartney have played there, along with Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Rhianna seems confused: she played there but she has also tweeted “Free Palestine”, which she then deleted.

    What would be good is for big names to play in several surrounding countries and organise a big gig in the West Bank for a Palestinian audience.

    However, I feel there is also potentially a problem with the BDS campaign. It wants Israel to conform with international law and respect human rights. But what if Israel complied and even withdrew to pre-1967 borders? It would still be an alien oppressor power planted down in Palestine. That’s why the priority for revolutionaries and internationalists has to be active and explicit solidarity with the Palestinians, not merely attacks on Israel’s formal violations of human rights and international law.

    The anti-apartheid movement began as a liberal movement and it took several decades before solidarity and internationalism became more significant aspects of it. After all this time, the movement around Palestine should be at that stage already.


    • From what I understand of these sorts of things (anti-apartheid movement is actually a good example) is that as soon as your demands look like they might be being met – you push further. That’s apparently how it worked in the 80s (I wasn’t born so bare with me) so I think it’s a similar case with BDS. It’s a starting point, not an entire set of demands.

  3. It’s a starting point and I support BDS. But it is not without a serious problem. The official position of BDS as I understand it, and I checked this, is that it advocates “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law”.

    But the problem is not that Israel does not meet its obligations under international law. It is that it is an inherently racist state, built on the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinians. Its violations of international law are the add-ons.

    What if a regime came to power in Israel that said, “We will withdraw to the 1967 borders”. Logically, the BDS campaign would have to come to an end. But the oppression of the Palestinians would continue. So why not fight the cause rather than the consequence?

    The other issue is how anti-capitalists campaign and what they campaign for. There’s no shortage of good, liberal people to campaign for BDS. So let them concentrate on that campaign, and anti-capitalists can campaign in solidarity with the liberation movement and in support of the goals of the liberation movement, which include *ending the existence* of the *state* of Israel. Who in the West is campaigning for that?

    So I’m not criticising BDS, so much as suggesting that anti-capitalists should be putting their energy into something more.

  4. One of the best and most insightful writers on Palestine is Joseph Massad. We’ve run several of his articles on Redline.

    In one we put up last December, he noted this about BDS:

    “The Ramallah-based PACBI has always been clear that BDS is an instrument, a means to be used to achieve strategic goals — namely an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands during and since 1967, an end to Israeli institutionalized racism inside the 1948 boundaries of Israel and the return of the Palestinian refugees to their lands and homes. In recent years, however, BDS has been transformed from a means to an end unto itself. Many of those in solidarity with the Palestinians have begun to articulate their positions as ones that support BDS as a goal rather than a means. . .”

    full at: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/the-problem-with-recognising-palestine/

  5. Re South Africa and campaigns in the 1980s.

    The emphasis of the anti-apartheid movement in New Zealand had shifted by the 1980s. Earlier on, it was more like “What can we do to help these poor black people?” and “Contact with South Africa is undermining NZ’s reputation globally as a decent, non-racist, multicultural society”.

    By the 1980s the attitude towards black South Africans had substantially improved. Instead of being seen as poor victims, they were seen as an oppressed population which was rising up against that oppression and perfectly capable of bringing it to an end; our role was a supportive one, to build solidarity with them and help them finish off the regime, the apartheid system, and even capitalism. And the bulk of anti-apartheid activists no longer gave a damn about NZ’s ‘reputation’ internationally as a (mythical) multiracial wonderland.

    Unfortunately, well-intentioned people in justice for Palestine type activities here only too often talk about the Palestinians as if they are mere victims with no agency. I remember being appalled when some well-meaning Christian at a rally in Christchurch last year referred to BDS as the way forward and said this was how apartheid was toppled in South Africa. He actually managed to disappear about 30 million black South Africans (I think South Africa had about 40 million people in 1994, 76% of whom were black), It was unbelievable hearing someone say that in 2014, especially someone who had actually been around when the continuous rebellion of the masses in South Africa meant the ruling class could no longer rule in the old way.

    We don’t need nebulous “justice for Palestine” campaigns on the left; we need a Palestine *solidarity movement*. Which was what the anti-apartheid movement had become – a powerful solidarity movement – probably in the aftermath of Soweto (1976) and also in the aftermath of struggles here like the occupation at Bastion Point (1977-78). By the time of the 1981 anti-tour protests, the solidarity current within the anti-apartheid movement was possibly the strongest element in the movement and that intensified I think over the rest of the 1980s.

    In 2015, it’s a bit grim that a sizeable chunk of opponents of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the generalised racism of the Zionist state are roughly where the NZ anti-apartheid movement was prior to Soweto, almost 40 years ago. And the leftists within the movement don’t seem concerned about advancing its politics beyond that, whereas the leftists in the anti-apartheid movement were its advanced detachment, a core part of its leadership in the *political* as well as organisational sense: they led the development of the politics of solidarity in displacing the politics of sympathy for the poor black victims.

    We should be standing on the shoulders of the work those comrades did, instead of lagging behind and still pushing the politics of Palestinian victimhood.

    How many more intifadas will it take to make solidarity the watchword of the movement here?


  6. Interestingly I just heard that the state of Illinois has passed Anti-BDS legislation, barring the pension funds from being invested in companies which participate in BDS. So, the exact opposite of what BDS campaigners would like. It’s certainly only one part of a greater strategy – but the amount of pressure coming from apologists for the apartheid state of Israel seems to suggest it is considered a threat of some kind.

    I agree Phil, and it definitely depends who you ask. There are many Palestinians involved in the Justice for Palestine groups who obviously have much clearer politics on the issue. The more charitably minded Christian types will always be around – though I admit I feel they are given more of a platform than is really warranted.

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