Society / February 6, 2024

When Wearing a Sweater Is Antisemitic

The singer Kiana Lede wore a black-and-white cardigan to sing the US national anthem, riling up the reactionary right and supporters of the Israeli state.

Dave Zirin
Musician Kiana Lede at the 2024 NHL All-Star Game on February 3, 2024, in Toronto, Canada.

Musician Kiana Lede wears her controversial cardigan at the 2024 NHL All-Star Game on February 3, 2024, in Toronto, Canada.

(Nicole Osborne / NHLI via Getty Images)

Kiana Ledé did something apparently quite menacing over the weekend: She wore a black-and-white cardigan. The Los Angeles–based singer performed the US national anthem at the 2024 National Hockey League All-Star game, and her sweater caused the reactionary right as well as pro-Israel organizations to lose their collective minds. They were riled up because the pattern on her sweater evoked a keffiyeh, the scarf worn in solidarity with the Palestinian people and those calling for Israel to end its bombardment of Gaza.

It must be noted, which Fox News did not, that the sweater’s symbolism is unconfirmed, but this did not stop the network or its social-media hordes from pressing forward. Again, Ledé did not take a knee or, heaven forfend, raise a fist during the anthem. She wore a sweater. The outrage grew, because, as a writer at Fox News put it, “Lede has history of supporting Palestinian people on social media.”

No support of Palestinians shall go unpunished.

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Marty York, communications director of B’Nai Brith Canada, piled on, demanding “an investigation” by the NHL to find out “how this offensive singer could have been involved in the league’s showcase event.” He also said, “It’s mind-boggling. This woman has a track record of making dangerous comments to encourage hate against Jews.”

That’s a hell of a charge. Let’s look at Ledé’s “dangerous comments” where she “encouraged hate against Jews,” which her detractors claim to find in two tweets. The 26-year-old singer posted on December 11,

“I try to live my life and build my career around rawness, awareness, empathy, community. That doesn’t stop at my shows. So I ask that if you own a keffiyeh, please wear it. If you can show any sign that you support the Palestinian people, do it.”

She then added to the fury of her newfound detractors that Zionists could “stay your ass at home.” This was followed by emojis of a Palestinian flag and a heart.

The second post they unearthed was written five days after the October 7 Hamas attacks, when she tweeted,

I want to make it clear. I do NOT condone a single thing HAMAS has done. No innocent people should be murdered or be a victim of SA. I understand this is a very complex situation. I will say again, Hamas is not Palestine. The Israeli GOV is usin it’s power to commit genocide.

Also I think the way the American government has taken a side and gave the microphone to Israel about this horrific incident is doin enough. My goal is to speak out for the thousands [of] Palestinians who are bein (muted by our gov and main stream media.

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They also charge her with once saying “from the river to the sea” at a concert. This is a phrase of Palestinian liberation that’s been in use for decades. Israeli leaders have redefined it as a call for the extermination of Jews. This lie is parroted by US politicians and their compliant media. Meanwhile, West Bank settlers and those selling them illegally seized land use the same words. It’s also said with a smirk by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he says that Israel must have total control “from the river to the sea.”

Treating a cardigan as if it’s radioactive reveals where we are as a society relative to Israel’s relentless war on Gaza. Donning a sweater is now antisemitic. Saying that Hamas is not Palestine is now antisemitic. Using your voice to speak out for a cease-fire? Antisemitic.

None of this is antisemitic, and the end result is to trivialize the real antisemites—like the Holocaust deniers amplified by Elon Musk rising on the far right. What is antisemitic is the assumption that all of us Jews agree with Netanyahu’s dreams of genocide. Everything they accuse Hamas of wanting to do to them, they are doing. Anyone opposing this madness and speaking for those being deliberately unheard, deserves our support: from Annie Lennox to Kiana Ledé. And you know if Sinead O’Connor was still with us, she’d be saying the same.

To get a performer’s perspective, I reached out to Leah Tysse, who took a knee while singing the national anthem at a Sacramento Kings game in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in October 2016. Regarding Ledé, Tysse told me, “Using your voice as an artist or public figure is nothing new, and I believe it’s fundamentally part of art’s mission is to be that voice. The anthem is an especially powerful platform to expose social injustice. While singing the anthem, and expressing our love of country, we can simultaneously point out the issues which need to be addressed.”

She added, “It’s actually an act of love and a quest for justice for everyone.”

We are in a moment where calling “for justice for everyone”—if “everyone” includes Palestinians—will be branded as an act of prejudice and even violence.

What Ledé did that was so unforgivable seems to be that she had the temerity to wear a cardigan and speak out for Palestinian lives as a Black woman. The anti-Black racism among pro-Israel forces from the Anti-Defamation League to Senator John Fetterman has been ramped up since South Africa levied its charges of genocide at the Hague. To ignore that this is part of the backlash is to be deliberately obtuse.

What must be supported, as Tysse said, is artists’ using their voices in the face of injustice. What must be supported is any person or group who stands up to a genocide being livestreamed to us by brave media members who double as IDF military targets. What is happening in Gaza is a moral calamity that the United States is bankrolling and Joe Biden is backing, no matter how many young voters he hemorrhages in the process. There is nothing antisemitic about trying to save innocent lives. There is nothing antisemitic about recognizing that there are many “self-loving” Jewish people who refuse to walk in lockstep with Israel. There is nothing antisemitic about seeing Palestinians as part of the human family. And there is certainly nothing antisemitic about wearing a damn black-and-white sweater.

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Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports. He is also the coproducer and writer of the new documentary Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL.

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