Jewish music fans question artists’ silence after Oct. 7

Music industry insider: ‘If you see October 7 and you don’t say anything, you’re never going to’

Anyone who’s ever been on the internet knows where to find the most vile, toxic, avoid-it-at-all costs content: the comments section. 

Influencers and celebrities who have posted online in support of Israel since Oct. 7 have seen their feeds blow up with antisemitic messages or “FREE PALESTINE” comments from dozens or hundreds of trolls. When the singer Pink posted a Hanukkah message earlier this month — not even mentioning Israel — one commenter called her post “really tone deaf in the currently [sic] climate.”

That might explain why some musicians who support Israel have shied away from saying anything since the Hamas terror attacks that killed more than 1,200 people. But in this online era where ordinary people feel a deep connection to the artists they love, the silence is disappointing for many Jewish fans. They recognize the recent silence as a crushing letdown, likely to have lasting consequences: The events of Oct. 7 were so brutal that many of them thought celebrities who have spoken out on other social justice causes would feel compelled to recognize the atrocities. 

“If you see October 7 and you don’t say anything, you’re never going to,” one music industry insider told Jewish Insider

Take the pop-rock band Haim, composed of three sisters whose father is an Israeli immigrant to Los Angeles. The Grammy-nominated sisters have leaned heavily on their Jewish identity since their debut album was released a decade ago, including playing shows at iconic Jewish delis in California and beyond. But the band’s Instagram, with 1.5 million followers, has been silent since Oct. 7. So have each of the sisters’ individual accounts. The comment sections on their old posts, though, are full of the band’s Jewish fans begging them to say something. 

“Your silence is deafening,” one user wrote on a year-old post showing Danielle Haim, the group’s lead singer, holding a giant challah. “You don’t get to pick and choose when to be Jewish and/or Israeli.” JI did not receive a response to an inquiry sent to the band’s management. 

Since Oct. 7, social media users and music fans have picked apart their favorite artists’ accounts to try to discern where they stand on the Israel-Hamas war. In an era when so many influencers use their public platforms to raise awareness of political causes, many fans told JI they expected to see the same after the Oct. 7 terror attacks and the corresponding global rise in antisemitism.

“To have prominent Jewish public figures remain silent on something of this scale — something that is so core to who they are — seems cowardly. It feels like a complete letdown,” said Janna Berenson, a marketing executive in L.A. “I don’t expect and am not asking for them to arrange a peace conference or to even rally the entertainment community. It would just be nice to know they care and that their morals are more important than their perception in the music industry.”

Of course, these celebrities don’t have any tangible impact on what’s happening in the Middle East. But what they will or won’t say about Israel is reflective of the broader cultural conversation. And among many of the trendiest young artists, public alignment with the Palestinians is perceived as the cooler position to take. (Some artists have vocally expressed their support for Israel and the Jewish community, perhaps none more so than the Soviet-born Jewish singer Regina Spektor.) 

Public opinion polling since Oct. 7 shows that Gen Z Americans side more with the Palestinians than Israelis, and some are sympathetic to Hamas. They’re more likely to take their cues from the celebrities they follow on social media, many of whom have millions of followers, than from politicians. 

The biggest artist in the world right now is Taylor Swift. During the Trump presidency, she used her platform to speak publicly about politics for the first time. Legions of Swift’s Jewish fans have spent the months since Oct. 7 imploring her to speak out about the terror attack, often highlighting the story of one of her fans who was killed in the attack. 

“She could have used her position as the most famous human on the planet to do good and support Jews,” said Emily Slavkin, a law student in New York City. “She’s been silent.” 

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – AUGUST 24: EDITORIAL USE ONLY. Taylor Swift performs onstage during the “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” at Foro Sol on August 24, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Earlier this month, Swift attended a philanthropic event raising money for humanitarian relief in Gaza, but she still has not publicly spoken about the war. MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers, two of the up-and-coming acts who opened for her record-breaking world tour this year, signed onto a pro-cease-fire statement that accused Israel of apartheid and failed to mention Hamas and the Oct. 7 attacks.  

“We shouldn’t just focus on why didn’t Jewish artists speak up. More importantly, where were the non-Jewish artists to be there for them, to be their allies? To tell them, ‘We got your back if you do speak up, and we will stand next to you?’” asked Ari Ingel, executive director of Creative Community for Peace, an organization founded by entertainment industry executives to fight the cultural boycott of Israel. “That was totally absent, even though every other persecuted and minority community gets that allyship.”

Creative Community for Peace has tracked a widespread harassment campaign targeting celebrities who mention Israel, which is apparent to anyone who glimpses at the comment sections of artists’ posts. When pop singer Billie Eilish released a new album in 2021, a marketing campaign from her record label had her film short videos to be released all over the world, urging international fans to buy her new album. “Hi, Israel,” she said in a brief video for MTV Israel. Thousands of pro-Palestine bots swarmed her Instagram account, even on posts having nothing to do with Israel. No other country-specific videos received similar backlash. 

“I think the boycott movement has had their most success targeting young female artists. I think the reason for that is because young female artists actually do look at their Instagram feeds and engage with them still,” Ingel said. “There’s a coordinated campaign to demonize Israel and delegitimize Israel out there, and to try to make speaking about Israel toxic.” 

Do we expect too much from our favorite celebrities? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it easier for fans to handle their disappointment.

“Music is a huge part of my life, and I find it extremely challenging to sort through the attachment I feel to artists and their music, especially when juxtaposed by the sting of betrayal felt each time they throw around often antisemitic rhetoric,” said Orly Einhorn, a college graduate living in Cleveland.

New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait wrote last month that institutions such as universities and companies should simply stop making official statements about “issues outside their purview” to avoid the fallout seen since Oct. 7, when many have struggled to take a clear stand. The same could be said for artists. But the emotional bond that fans feel to their favorite bands, which has only grown more intense in the age of social media, means the lack of sympathy hurts in a particularly acute way.

“As a lifelong fan and especially now that Swiftie culture is sweeping the globe, we think of her as a friend, someone that we deeply care about,” Slavkin said of Taylor Swift. “Just like I’d expect my friend to reach out to me and express support, I expect that from her. And just as it hurt when my friends didn’t, it hurts when she’s silent as well.” 

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