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Lou Reed was on our side, Israel supporters say

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Lou Reed

Lou Reed

The late great Lou Reed was a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, and though Zionism hasn’t been an element of the mainstream obituaries I’ve seen– still, the claim is being made. Here’s Tom Gross in the National Review:

Perhaps even more than other American-Jewish rock stars such as Billy Joel and Bob Dylan, Lou Reed was fiercely proud of being Jewish — and included lyrics on behalf of Israel and against anti-Semitism in some of his songs.

I mention Reed’s Jewishness because not a single obituary I have read of him in the mainstream press mentions it, when for Reed it was an important factor.

Reed, who died yesterday of liver failure at the age of 71, was born Lewis Allan Reed to a Jewish family in Brooklyn. He said that while “he had no god apart from rock ‘n’ roll” his Jewish roots and standing up for Israel meant a lot to him. He was a frequent visitor to the country, last performing in Tel Aviv in 2008, and his aunt and many cousins live in Haifa and other Israeli towns.

Both the National Review and The Jerusalem Post describe a Reed song called Good Evening, Mr. Waldheim, from 1989, that related anti-Semitic incidents, including, in Reed’s view, Jesse Jackson’s talking to the PLO.

The Jerusalem Post says Reed was private about his religious feelings but that a progressive Jerusalem rabbi who befriended him said he “definitely had a Jewish soul.”

Despite feeling at home in Israel and visiting the country a handful of times over the last two decades, Lou Reed kept his feelings about Judaism private, according to a Jerusalem rabbi who befriended the fabled rocker and his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson….

[Progressive Rabbi Levi] Weiman-Kelman, who first met Reed through Anderson, who performed in Israel for the first time in 1992 in a benefit show for the New Israel Fund.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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42 Responses

  1. just on October 29, 2013, 9:25 pm

    Dunno what Lou Reed (RIP) “felt” except from my grateful ears’ interpretation of his music. As far as I am concerned, he spoke for “everyman”– humble and beautiful. Being “fiercely” proud of being Jewish is great.

    He was a brilliant artist. “Perfect Day” and “Walk on the Wild Side”, as well as his many other works of art, are and will always be special and listened to by me, myself and I.

    I’ll wait until his family tells me what he really “felt”. RIP, Lou– thank you.

  2. Bandolero on October 29, 2013, 10:12 pm

    That Lou Reed was cozy with Israel, is nothing surprising for me. I read jewcy two years ago:

    Lou Reed’s Manager Is Really Tight With The Israeli Army

  3. Krauss on October 30, 2013, 1:42 am

    When Lou Reed died my first and thus far only reaction has been: who?
    More or less all my friends think the same. We’re in our 20s. We never heard of this guy.
    And the more I do read about him, the more I understand why.

    • seafoid on October 30, 2013, 5:22 am

      That’s harsh, Krauss.
      He was a legend. Inspired so many bands and singers.
      Music is very unlike Zionism. It has nuance and inspiration and it changes people.

      • Woody Tanaka on October 30, 2013, 7:46 am

        Meh. Even his one known song, “Walk on the Wild Side” had a catchy tune, but the rest of the song (lyrics, singing) kind of sucked. And if the statements by the zios in this article are to be believed, he had a black, evil soul to support the Aparthied state, so no big loss.

      • seafoid on October 30, 2013, 1:26 pm

        All tomorrows parties

        Venus in furs

        He’ll be remembered long after Zionism collapses. Zionism is more like Miley Cyrus. Bibi can’t even twerk these days.

        Krauss is wise beyond his years but he hasn’t heard enough of the good stuff yet :)

      • Woody Tanaka on October 31, 2013, 12:03 pm

        “All tomorrows parties

        link to

        Venus in furs

        link to”

        I actually have a worse opinion of him now that I watched those videos.

    • RoHa on October 30, 2013, 5:40 am

      Being in my late sixties, I remember “Walk on the wild side”. Not greatly impressed. Nothing else comes to mind.

      • seafoid on October 30, 2013, 11:38 am

        The velvet underground. I was wondering today how it is that the half of judaism resident in Galut can produce performers of the calibre of Reed and Philip Glass while Judistan cannot. Must be the siege mentality.

      • Cliff on October 30, 2013, 11:41 am

        Because AMERICA produced them – not Judaism.

      • seafoid on October 30, 2013, 1:21 pm

        Melting pot. Not a bland ethnocracy

    • MarkF on October 30, 2013, 7:59 am

      Hahaha, I love it! My young friend (not that I’m terribly old, nor a big Lou Reed fan), in about 20+ years you’ll experience your words coming back at you when your kid(s) look at you like your crazy when you fondly bring up the name of an artist that meant something to you, and they say, “who’s that?!?”

      Happens to the best and worst of us….

    • marc b. on October 30, 2013, 9:10 am

      krauss, reed was another overrated musical ‘pioneer’. I can count on a couple of fingers the songs he was involved with that i’d care to listen to today. if you have any interest, ‘venus in furs’ done with the velvet underground is probably the best.

      as I said, after that and a couple others all I hear is his nasally, droning vocals and the squadron of collective droning from countless imitators. (his collaboration with and praise of the ‘genius’ of andy warhola is symptomatic of his false countercultural bona fides.) I guess you could call him the trippy, dark counterpoint to that other 60’s mosquito-voiced ‘genius’, Bob Dylan. (strange that both of them are so frequently lauded by critics yet I could go months or more flipping around the radio dial in the car and never hear a song played by either of them. so much for their popular legacy.)

    • Yitzgood on October 30, 2013, 12:13 pm

      When Lou Reed died my first and thus far only reaction has been: who?

      Try the version of “Sweet Jane” on the album Loaded by the Velvet Underground.

    • Cliff on October 30, 2013, 12:25 pm

      I’m in my 20s too Krauss.

      It depends on your music taste.

    • seafoid on October 31, 2013, 12:39 pm

      He’ll live on forever in whatever the coordinates of Israel are but Israel won’t be around forever, Obs. It’s so obvious .

  4. DICKERSON3870 on October 30, 2013, 2:02 am

    RE: “Lou Reed kept his feelings about Judaism private, according to a Jerusalem rabbi who befriended the fabled rocker and his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson…. [Progressive Rabbi Levi] Weiman-Kelman, who first met Reed through Anderson, who performed in Israel for the first time in 1992 in a benefit show for the New Israel Fund.” ~ Jerusalem Post

    MY COMMENT: And now, 20 years later, the New Israel Fund (NIF) is virtually treif as far as many Zionists are concerned! ! !

    SEE: “Australian Zionists Dump Chazan”, By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 02/05/10

    [EXCERPTS] Haaretz reports that the Israeli rightist Jerusalem Post has dumped Naomi Chazan’s column in that newspaper. The editor refused to elaborate when asked. Clearly, this is connected to Im Tirtzu’s campaign of vilification against Chazan and New Israel Fund, which I’ve covered extensively here. . .
    . . . The Australian Reform Movement, the Union for Progressive Judaism, also rescinded an invitation to Chazan to speak there. The amount of distortion in the following shameful passage is astonishing:

    According to ZCV [Zionist Council of Victoria] President Dr. Danny Lamm, news of the report…on Im Tirtzu’s Web site, had generated angry responses throughout the Melbourne Jewish community and the decision was made to withdraw Chazan’s invite.
    “The activities of the NIF are anathema to Zionist groups such as ours, and frankly, we’re just not interested in having anything to with it,” Dr. Lamm told the Post by telephone from Melbourne on Tuesday.
    “It’s not new to me, or many of us, that the NIF has supported groups that have damaged Israel and will continue to do damage to Israel, but others were surprised by this,” he added.
    Lamm made it clear that the Zionist Council of Victoria represented all branches of Jewish political and religious affiliation, “from Likud to Meretz”
    and that they would “never bar anybody from the left just as they wouldn’t bar anyone from the right.
    But the sort of stuff the NIF supports is so far removed from the community here,” Lamm added, saying “it was decided that Chazan’s public appearances be canceled.”

    What I find so astonishing is that Lamm would believe that it was NIF that was extremist and not his own views. NIF is really a liberal Zionist group plain and simple. It’s views are glatt kosher as far as doctrinal Zionism is concerned. So for Lamm to contend that his group includes Meretz, but NIF is somehow farther out there to the left is simply unbelievable. The man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yet another example of the Diapsora Jewry have to be holier than the [Zionist] pope.
    Actually, the Australians may’ve done Chazan a favor because at the rate the Shin Bet is going in criminalizing human rights work in Israel, they might not have allowed her back into the country on her return, deeming her to be a subversive security risk . . .


    • DICKERSON3870 on October 30, 2013, 2:22 am

      P.S. RE: “And now, 20 years later, the New Israel Fund (NIF) is virtually treif as far as many Zionists are concerned! ! !” – me (from above)

      “Hagee Funds Israeli Nationalist Group Attacking NIF”, By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 02/01/10
      LINK –

    • Mayhem on October 30, 2013, 3:42 am

      @Dickerson3870, what in the heck on you on about? You are using this tribute article about Lou Reed to slang off about some stuff to do with the NIF that happened more than 3 years ago. On behalf of Lou Reed I say, “go take a walk on the wild side”.

      • DICKERSON3870 on November 1, 2013, 9:08 am

        RE: “@Dickerson3870, what in the heck on you on about?” ~ Mayhem
        MY REPLY: The point is that Weiman-Kelman first met Reed through Anderson, who performed in Israel for the first time in 1992 in a benefit show for the New Israel Fund (NIF). So, Lou Reed’s wife (and Lou Reed, I assume) were/are supporters of the New Israel Fund.
        But according to ZCV [Zionist Council of Victoria] President Dr. Danny Lamm: “The activities of the NIF are anathema to Zionist groups such as ours, and frankly, we’re just not interested in having anything to with it.” Furthermore, Dr. Lamm made it clear that the Zionist Council of Victoria represented all branches of Jewish political and religious affiliation, “from Likud to Meretz”.
        ERGO, Lou Reed and his wife are obviously NOT Zionists!
        Is that clear enough for you?

    • Stephen Shenfield on October 30, 2013, 8:46 am

      No doubt the Shin Bet spies on and harasses human rights work, but the institution criminalizing it is the Knesset. Members of the Knesset have tabled numerous bills aimed at impeding human rights work, some of which have already passed into law. The website of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel provides detailed info on this.

  5. seafoid on October 30, 2013, 5:25 am

    I ‘m afraid I am struggling to see the connection between

    “he “definitely had a Jewish soul.””


    “anti-Semitic incidents, including, in Reed’s view, Jesse Jackson’s talking to the PLO”

    Is denying Palestinians rights what gives a Jewish person his or her soul?
    I refuse to believe that Judaism is so nihilistic.

    • miriam6 on October 30, 2013, 7:43 pm

      [email protected];

      “anti-Semitic incidents, including, in Reed’s view, Jesse Jackson’s talking to the PLO”

      Actually what stands out for me as a memory of Lou Reed was Reed’s criticism of Jesse Jackson’s reference to New York as Hymietown

      Which Tom Gross refers to in his article.

      As well as the Hymietown jibe – Gross also takes note of Reed’s song lyric reference to Louis Farrakhan;

      [2] A reference to Jesse Jackson who at the time had made many anti-Semitic remarks including referring to New York as “Hymietown”
      The way I call you on Farrakhan [4]

      The fact that Reed was critical of Jackson at a time when the liberal chattering classes in America were fawning all over Jackson just proves that Lou Reed was his very much his own man.

      All the finest leaders like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated – and we were left with the dregs – like Farrakhan and others.

      Malcolm X , Martin Luther King were much greater men who realised just as the Black Panther Party did – that black nationalism/ separatism was a dead-end which could only justify and aid the ruling elites in their priority aim of disempowering and pushing black Americans even further to the margins of American society.

      Anyway this is the loveliest song Lou Reed ever penned –

      Pale blue eyes;

      This is a cute song- it shows the Velvets weren’t all about darkness – they had a sense of humour too

      This song is a Lou Reed ode to boys (but girls can join in too! ) who like to plaster their faces with lots of ‘slap’ ( make – up!!)

      Lou Reed RIP.

  6. Taxi on October 30, 2013, 5:51 am

    ‘They’ can posthumously and vulturously claim him all they like, but the fact is that there is NOTHING in Lou’s music or lyrics that says: ‘I”m Jewish’, let alone: ‘I’m a zionist’. No whiff of the Messianic Complex there either, unlike in the cases of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

    I’m sure the great Lou Reed (R.I.P.) had profound respect for his ancestry and for judaism, but his gods were Delmore Schwartz, and guitars.

    The acclaimed British poet, Jeremy Reed (no relation), wrote a great book on Lou Reed: ‘Waiting For the Man: A Biography and Critical Study of Lou Reed’:

    The legendary Lou Reed is loved by millions, not specifically for his jewishness, but for his music and for his masterful lyrics; his insights into the human condition.
    Such a perfect song… “I’m glad I spent it with you”.

    • Stephen Shenfield on October 30, 2013, 8:55 am

      They are very wise to wait until a person dies before making such claims. Then it is too late for him to respond to them.

      • marc b. on October 30, 2013, 9:47 am

        that’s the MO. all ‘genius’ adopted or co-opted.

        I recently started to read ‘genius’ by Harold Bloom, whom I normally love, but 4 chapters was about enough. Shakespeare was a ‘Kabbalist’, an opaque, underhanded way of suggesting an answer to the ‘who was shakespeare’ controversy; Cervantes may have been a ‘converso’, although Bloom admits that there is absolutely no historical evidence of this; Bloom raises the fact that Montague had a jewish wife, although he simultaneously acknowledges that his wife had absolutely no affect on his writings or philosophy; Bloom advises us that Milton could have improved upon ‘Paradise Lost’ if he had consulted the ‘yahwists’. every page sticky with self love.

      • marc b. on October 30, 2013, 12:16 pm

        dope. meant Montaigne, not Montague. anyway, some dead French guy.

    • justicewillprevail on October 30, 2013, 10:21 am

      Exactly. Anyone acquainted with his work would recognise a great American story teller, or more specifically a New York one. Claiming him as some sort of Israeli supporter is pathetic and typically desperate to pin something on him he never indicated any interest in. He hated politics with a passion, as well as all of the journalists who tried to project their fantasies, like this, on him. His spirituality inclined towards Buddhism as anyone who had even passing interest in him would know. I would have loved to hear his snarling response to this kind of crap. Maybe the song Kill Your Sons would be apt, as the people who make up this feeble journalism clearly know nothing about his work or life.

    • gamal on October 30, 2013, 1:02 pm

      Doesnt waiting for “The Man” have a different connotation from waiting for “My Man”, (with my 20 dollars in my hand),

      Anyway my late friend Paul Boothe roadied for the velvet underground when they played the UK in 60/70?, he was 20 years my senior, since he had a passing resemblance to Lou, mainly the hair as Mr. Boothe was blessed with aquiline good looks, the band asked him if he could sing to which he replied no but neither can Lou, the band thought for a second and then invited him on stage I think for a walk on the wild side, those far enough away did indeed mistake him for Lou and apparently he did far better with the young ladies who wished to spend the evening with a star than any roady had a right to expect,

      I had a copy of “A Brief History of Time” whose epilogue assured me that Einstein was a committed Zionist, so Lou is in good company, the appalling British comedian Eric Sykes was a vocal supporter of UDI in Rhodesia, so has Lou’s support some how rehabilitated racism, colonialism and injustice how ironic, I always thought Nico was insufferable, but then i have neither taste nor civilization,

      still waiting for my man to front us some freedoms, spent the 20 dollars on Oscar Zeta Acosta’s 2 books, that must be good for at least a little “eyelet”.

      He was a seminal figure whatever his politics, ee cummings is one of my favorite poets, especially the early stuff, My Mother and Epithalamion are stupendous pieces of work, his politics were crap, he was afraid of black people and the Lou’s of this world, no matter, he supported Nixon, fearing for the fragility of “Western Civilization”, Doris Lessing too abandoned her earlier communism for fear of uncivilized hordes, both western and others.

      Because Zionism lacks substantive arguments, other than insane interpretations of religion and history, it deploys this endless defense, as Beithallami laments, it can not be justified only defended, corpses on the battlements will, at least potentially, forestall its collapse, a Massada of the already dead, Reed, Einstein, Luther King, all the famous and admirable dead support Zionism, how could you possibly dissent.

      • Mayhem on October 30, 2013, 7:07 pm

        Because Zionism lacks substantive arguments

        @gamal, that is not for you to say. If you believe that you are entitled to make condemnatory remarks about my personal ideology then what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and I am perfectly entitled to make remarks that criticize the perfidy of Islamic ideology. Would you be happy with that?
        Zionism is a national liberation movement for the Jewish people. You mightn’t like it, but as Jews it is our right as it is the right of any national ethnic group to strive for our self-determination and the continuity and development of our own political identity.
        Erdogan tried to slam Zionism and was called to task. Refer

      • justicewillprevail on October 31, 2013, 9:10 am

        Your ‘rights’ don’t take precedence over other people’s rights, particularly those people who have owned, settled in and cultivated land for centuries. Other people have rights too, hard for you to understand though it may be. Just because you have an ideology doesn’t mean that ideology is immune to criticism or the application of the law, or indeed the human rights of others. Zionism’s ‘fact’s are mythology, which is why they are not substantive.

      • seafoid on October 31, 2013, 12:46 pm

        “Reed, Einstein, Luther King, all the famous and admirable dead support Zionism, how could you possibly dissent.”

        They get so excited when someone famous likes them. Like OMG!!!!
        I think they try too hard. Zionism is never ever natural . Please like us . Here’s some money. Please. Otherwise F*** you, you anti-Semite.

  7. pabelmont on October 30, 2013, 9:08 am

    Music, among other things, has great power (sometimes) to “move” people. It may be the words of songs or the tunes or harmonies or rhythms. With me, classical music — well performed — is often moving. I’m not tuned to pop-music. Well, maybe Flamenco and Piazzola (Tangos).

    As to the power of words, however, let us not forget that there are other words than those of songs, and propaganda is mostly made up of words.

    Love of “ISM”s is mostly emotional, not logical, because almost always the “ISM”s lack definitional substance. But the love starts with well-chosen and usually misleading words.

    I love an abstraction (an “ISM”) called democracy — even though I realize that in America it has been traduced into oligarchy — rule by the BIG-MONEY boys.

    Those old-timers who grew up loving Zionism almost certainly “loved” a movement which claimed to be doing something “brave” to “solve” a “problem” of “The Jewish People”. But there never was a “The Jewish People”, never was a common “problem” of Jews, and antisemitism (a problem of many European Jews, not so much for American Jews, and little for Arab Jews) was if anything increased by Israel’s (Zionism’s) activities, not “solved”. And still those old-timers “love” “Israel”. And these are people who hated (yes, really did hate) “racism” but love Israel; perhaps there is something they don’t know? Can it be that they LOVE AN ABSTRACTION? “Israel” like “Zionism” is an ABSTRACTION, not a REALITY? Could be. Don’t misunderestimate the power of words.

    NOTE: Those educated Jews now flooding out of Israel to live in (and I suppose be citizens of) Germany are escaping a VERY BAD reality into a much better one. Can Israel be antisemitic or is it just a bit toxic for many educated Jews?

    Well, that’s the way of love, isn’t it?

  8. QLineOrientalist on October 30, 2013, 10:04 am

    Nice article. Sensitively written. Thanks.

  9. RudyM on October 30, 2013, 11:57 am

    I think it’s kind of funny people are arguing about Lou Reed on Mondoweiss.

    I support BDS but I’m not going to pretend great music can’t be made by people whose politics I find offensive in some way. (What would classical music fans do? Surely as you go back in time, you are going to run into artists with politics views repugnant to most of us in the present.) This type of issue has been coming up for me a lot lately (e.g., me getting into arguments about Israel on music discussion sites). Politics and music are possibly my biggest interests right now, but they don’t overlap a whole lot, and I don’t need them to.

    I don’t worship the New York bohemian world (as described, for instance, in Love Goes to Buildings on Fire) of which Lou Reed was a part nearly as much as many do, but he’s more than just “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” His solo career didn’t matter to me that much, but the Velvet Underground put out a bunch of music I still like, though even their albums are uneven. I can’t say I’m fond of the overwhelming majority of bands who claim them as an influence either.

    There definitely is life beyond white men with electric guitars.

  10. LanceThruster on October 30, 2013, 12:54 pm

    And if Lou was more along the lines of Roger Waters in his views, he’d be dismissed by that same group claiming tribal unity.

  11. dbroncos on October 30, 2013, 1:22 pm

    A fond farewell to Lou Reed. He was a giant in the golden age of American pop. To my ears his best stuff with VU has more weight then the light fare of the Beatles catalogue. The dark themes on The Velvet Underground with Nico, recorded in ’65 ! were way ahead of their time and still resonate. His solo records were good too – Berlin, Transformer, New York come to mind.

    I’m not surprised to learn that he was a Zionist reactionary. He wasn’t alone in his willful blindness and ignorance.

  12. Egbert on October 31, 2013, 5:50 am

    He may have had a Jewish Soul but he certainly didn’t have an Israeli Soul.

  13. wondering jew on October 31, 2013, 10:13 pm

    Lou Reed
    yes indeed
    one great yid. (pronounced to rhyme with Reed).

    Also one great faggot junkie as well, as he would say.

    And to those who denigrate his greatness: 1. Rolling stone magazine lists him (or the Velvet Underground) as one of the top 50 rock acts of all time. 2. Anyone who has lived in NYC and who doesn’t appreciate “Dirty Boulevard” ought to confess to deafness before boasting about how minor Reed was as a poet/rocker of the latter 20th century.

    • Woody Tanaka on November 1, 2013, 6:44 am

      1) And Rolling Stone is welcome to its opinion, wrong as it is. 2) I wonder if this is another example of the bizarre NYC provincialism that mistakenly sees things of interest to NYC -local concerns-as being universal.

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