U2 – Anti-Semitic Or Not?

A reader e-mailed me a link to a song on U2’s latest album, “How To Make An Atomic Bomb”, and asked if I thought that U2 was being anti-Semitic with the following lines:

Lay down
Lay down your guns
All your daughters of Zion
All your Abraham sons

I don’t know if I can make it
I’m not easy on my knees
Here’s my heart and you can break it
I need some release, release, release

I know what I think, but I thought I would put it to a survey. Remember, anti-Zionism is most definitely anti-Semitism, as far as I am concerned. If there was a more balanced reference to, say, sons and daughters of Mohammed, I wouldn’t be asking the question:

I always thought that BFA referred to the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) between Israel and the Arabs–the song was written no more than a year or so thereafter, and after all the initial release of the album had the Hebrew and Arabic translations of the lyrics (only to the song BFA).

I spent a lot of time in Israel– when friends of mine in the states would ask me “who’s right, Israel or the Palestinean Arabs?,” all I could say was “The truth lies somewhere in between.”


Joel Schneier

19 thoughts on “U2 – Anti-Semitic Or Not?

  1. I didn’t know if you wanted to be fingered as the alarmist crying “anti-Semite” just because Bono doesn’t equate terrorism with heartbreak as well! ;o)>

  2. Hey Mark – could “All your Abraham sons” be a reference to Muslims and Arabs? Arabs trace lineage to Ishmael, if I remember my Sunday school lessons correctly. It’s a little more subtle than “daughters of Zion,” of course, but I don’t think Bono’s unmasking any anti-semitism here. I think he’s delivering his message to both camps.

  3. Jonathan – Hi – Thanks for stopping by. Damn good point and one that I confess did not occur to me. I have been trying to find more on-line discussion about the song, and would love to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly what is meant by the song. I will be the first to admit that I have been wrong before, andf, if that is the case here, I will most definitely follow up with another post. But you have certainly raised a great discussion point!

  4. I do not know if I would go as far as to call Bono or U2 anti-semitic in the sense of Holocaust denial or something akin to skinheads. However, I think they clearly have a liberal European view of the world and that is not a pro-Israeli view at all. Definately more sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative and viewpoint. One of the above posters was correct that the line is most likely a message to both camps. While “Mohammeds sons” would have been more balanced, the band most likely felt that “Abrahams sons” sounded better. I doubt if they looked at is as (in your best Irish accent now) “this line puts 3/4 ths blame on the Jews instead of half”. However, more disturbing to me at least as a huge long time U2 fan, during this tour there are two stage references that had me taken aback. Not verbal, but visual. One is a headband that Bono wears for a few songs. It has a cross, a star of David and the Muslim sign on it. They call it the coexistance scarf or something with similar meaning. The star of David being right in the center of it. And, preceeding “Where the Streets Have No Name” Bono gives an articulate speech about being a child in Ireland and seeing the first man on the moon on tv. He loved the US for it’s opportunity and creativity and freedom. But now, the world leaders have to focus on our world, etc. As the song proceeds there is an effect in the lighting of flags. They are the flags of African nations which makes sense as Bono is focused on debt relief for Africa. But, out of the blue appears the Palestinian flag. No US flag, no Israeli flag, no EU flags. To the best of knowledge, just African flags and then the Palestinian flag. The day after the show I did some research and found next to nothing on U2 and Israel of Jews except the Tel Aviv stop on the Pop Mart tour. The band was unable to stay in Israel after the show due to an insurance companies “refusal” to insure them as suicide bombing by Palestinians were on the rise. Bono is quoted in Rolling Stone as saying that “We are Irish, so of course we understand the politics. ….We do not mix politics and music…..We are just playing the show and leaving” He went on stage that night and dedicated a song to the release of the Israeli nuclear whistle blower (Vishna or something?) He also dedicated a few songs to Yitzak Rabin. So, there you have it. The most I could find on the subject. In my opinion, like many liberal Europeans, U2 most likely does not have a better grasp on the situation in Israel then an average person who watches CNN. Mix into that the 1800 year history of European anti-semitism and it is easy for them to side with the Palestinians. It is unfortionate and it makes me pause whenever I hear one of their great songs. Perhaps someone in the music industry can get Bon’s ear and educate him a bit.

  5. Dave – Thanks for the in-depth comments. It follows what I had to say in a later post: http://auterrific.mu.nu/archives/082733.php;
    although in much more detail. One thing about your comments disturbs me and leads me to believe that U2 and/or Bono are unfairly coming down on the side of the “Palestinians”, and that is the bit about the flag display. I think they, like other Europeans, have succumbed to the propaganda.

  6. The flag thing really took me for a whirl. It was so overt especially if I am correct and all the other flags were African which the Palestinians clearly are not. Either way, I did not see any US or Israeli flag in that particular mix. There is a great book I just read that really lays things out simply and fairly, it is called “A View From The Eye of The Storm” or something like that. It is written by an Isreali scientist.

  7. I just stumbled across this, quite interesting, though as an israeli u2 fan who attended their Israeli stop on POPmart I can just say you’re taking it a bit far, I have a bootleg of that show and Bono clearly says that “as Irish people we understand a bit for Israel and a bit for palestine” which put him in a place of “I’m not here to judge you”, the Vanunu reference was based on something faxed to the band by lobbyists of the subject just the day before the show, not something deeply studied and planned, anyway U2 was willing to do a not very profitable gig in Israel in a month when even Madlen Albright cancelled due to security issues!!! apart from that I think you should really check the thing about the palestinian flag during “Where the streets have no Name” at the current tour. you’re probably mixing it with some other flag of an african arab country, they all bear strong resemblance, the reason there’s no Israeli or US flag (as well as Dutch or Swiss or whatever) is that the theme of this song is spiritual release for Africa from its daily disasters, disasters which thanks god we in Israel, no matter how bad the situation grows here at times, do not suffer from at such scale (I mean REALLY extreme poverty on a national level, death by musquito bite, AIDS death toll, and all due to Denial of real interest from world super powers etc.).

    Finally U2 is a democracy and as such it varies from the critical (Mullen drums) to the Empathic (Bono) from the devote christian (The Edge) to the Secular (Adam Clayton) and as such, its devided in its views of jews, Israel and zionism as well.

  8. Yair –

    I appriciate your post although the fact that the popmart tour Vanunu reference was from something not very studied does not justify the use of it. My biggest issue with Bono, the rest of the band and European liberals in general (among others) is that they base their opinions on a combination of bad sources and inate anti-semitism which 1800 years of Christian Europe can not deny. This is why I recommend the book “…from the eye of the storm…”. As a pretty involved American Jew I can tell you that the flag was absolutly Palestinian. I have no doubt. As far as the problems in Africa, like any humane person I feel for the innocent there. I think it would be amazing if Western capial was combined with Isreali technology and Muslim labor to do some real good there. As far as U2 and anti-semitism, I stand by my original post. They are not anti-sematic in the sense that a Holocaust denier is but they clearly lack, by design or not, a fair and balanced understanding of the situation.

  9. Not that I care much for Bono, but what’s realistically wrong with being against an evil religious empire anyway? What’s so wrong with being against war? It’s not like Judaism is any more or less innocent than any other religion for the problems of today. People, wake up, the man is just trying to spread truth. Is telling the truth anti-Semitic? Then call me an anti-Semite too.

  10. His lyrics seem anti-semitic to me. Quite a surprise and disappointment. Although the line “Abraham’s sons” is likely referring to both Jews and Muslims, “daughters of Zion” can only mean Israelis.

  11. U2/Bono is not anti-semitic! You have to listen to the whole song, not just a few verses! I saw them in concert and this so-so song on the album was actually made 100 times better by their dynamic performance live.

    See if you can find a tape of their last concert and watch this song in context. It is anti-war, not anti-israel.

    And let’s not forget that Abraham isn’t solely claimed by the Jews.

    How could anyone utter a negative comment about Bono! The man is a saint!

  12. In my opinoin, Bono is fairly even handed regarding the middle east situation, especially for someone who is so involved in other politics.

    In regards to Dave, the Palestinian flag you saw is almost certainly the Sudanese flag, which is almost exactly identical, except that it does belong to an african nation

  13. This is ridiculous! Bono, nor U2 is anti-semitic. Wow, how you can extrapolate from something so innocent. The are men of peace, pure and simple. That is their message to all.

    I have all their CD,s a big fan and saw them on 2005 tour which you are referring to here as well as recently in 2009 tour.

    Bono is speaking to both (all sides) of the conflict and calling for peace. He talks about Coexisting…that is what his headband says.

    When he says sons of Abraham- he is referring to all 3 religions…
    represented on the headband and in Coexist logos. Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Last time I checked my Bible…all are children of Abraham. Which means that Palestinians which are Christian and Muslim are also descendents of Abraham.
    Would you deny that?

    It would be HIGHLY doubtful that one of those “flags” which were in lights scrolling down behind them on stage would be Palestinian…Bono’s entire focus is on the ONE campaign which he started with DATA in the 80’s. It is about helping Africa with Debt forgiveness, Aids, ending poverty, etc. I am certain it was an African flag. There are many flags that look similar.

    You guys are just looking for something to bitch about and continuing whining about how everyone in the world is against Israel and the Jews and here is just another example.

    Give me a break! Get real and get over it. I’m so sick of hearing this cry of anti-semitism. And NO anti-zionism is not anti-semitism.

    I’m sure you will call me an anti-semite just for saying what I did. I have Jewish friends, but that wont matter to you. Anyone who speaks the truth is label as anti-semitic.

    One day I hope everyone in that region can live in peace.


  14. On the Zoo TV tour in the 90’s Bono regularily called for Europe to rid themselves of Neo Nazis and would say they should paint Auschwitz pink. Also, when they performed the Love and Peace Or Else on the Vertigo tour Bono wore a Co-Exist bandana. Bono is also good friends with Salman Rushdie who is openly critical of Islam’s extremists and is also friends with Jews such as Bob Dylan. They have played Israel and will likely do so again on the 360 tour. I have been a u2 fan for over 20 years and I have honestly always felt u2 favoured Isael. It is unfair to pull one line from one song (daughters of Zion) and deem that he is an anti-semite. In my opinion he is clearly calling for peace between both sides and that both sides have work to do.

  15. I saw Bono on Neo Nazi tube line feeds.

    The others were linked to Standard Oil.
    Those links showed clones of Adolph Hitler.
    They went to clone more and to make
    Mozarts out of bloodlines they consider
    like royal or holy grail. Some of the blood
    was related to Yales but they tormented
    many YALES to sainthood to get it off them
    on a boat. There were Nazi prostitutes
    like madchen and others babylonian involved.
    There were investigations of AOL S
    doctors in regards to that incident on
    CSPAN and Syria. National Review
    of William F Buckley was who helped
    to harm the sainthood of Yales who resisted.

    I did not see Bono with Standard Oil
    but he was not always very nice.

    IBM financed Veri chip Beast and
    was Nazi like in War two.

    I don t know if Bono is a closet
    Nazi or what. I hope not.

  16. The first time I heard this song I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I knew immediately that it’s very much big bad Bono telling off the mean oppressors.

    Hewson’s a know-it-all liberal. He “knows” who the underdogs are, and he, of course, “knows” who the oppressors are. He absolutely meant it against Israel. He thinks he’s being clever and sneaky too. God I loathe him now. (I used to be a huge fan.)

    It’s also interesting that they would have disrespectfully put in #11 on the CD. (Yahweh) I was hoping to find a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed in their next liner notes, but alas, could not bring myself to even look. (I refuse to support them financially anymore.) Of course he won’t offend them. They’re big babies. Hewson seems Hades-bent on aiding those, and only those, who refuse to grow up. He knows to whom he can point fingers and get away with it. He knows he won’t have to fear retribution with Israelis. They’re too reasonable and willing to consider other sides.

    Now he’s taken to letting everyone know that he’s part Jewish. As though that makes anything he says ok now. Maybe he’s related to Richard Goldstone. LOL

    Dana, you sound like a silly little teeny-bopper having a temper tantrum after finding out that mom and dad don’t like your boy/girlfriend or something. Grow up.

  17. I think you are way off base, becoming paranoid and throwing nasty labels around when you (for no rational reason) feel threatened.

    You write: “Remember, anti-Zionism is most definitely anti-Semitism, as far as I am concerned.” This is nonsense.

    It is entirely possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-semitic. There’s even a entire sect of Hasidic Jews opposed to modern Zionism on religious grounds, the Satmar.

    For that matter, it is also quite possible to oppose some of the actions or policies of the State of Israel without being anti-Zionist.

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