HomeEntertainmentWhat does it mean to be a ‘Swiftie for Palestine?’

What does it mean to be a ‘Swiftie for Palestine?’

Two things Anamta Rehan has always believed in: Palestinian liberation and Taylor Swift.

Rehan’s grandparents “left half their life in India to move to Pakistan,” says the 18-year-old, now a university student in Canada. They drew a parallel between “having to flee their own land” and the displacement of the Palestinian people following the establishment of Israel. “I come from a family that has always recognized what Palestine is and the suffering they’ve been going through since 1948,” Rehan says. “I’ve always felt very close to the cause.”

Growing up in Pakistan, “half a world away” from the American Swift, Rehan loved listening to “1989,” Swift’s first official pop album. In 2019, she started a Twitter account through which she says she built friendships with Swifties from all over the world.

Rehan didn’t always see a connection between these pillars of her identity. Then came the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which Israel says killed 1,200 people, and the country’s subsequent invasion of the Gaza Strip. Since then, more and more public figures, including well-known musical artists, have pushed for an end to an Israeli military campaign that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and has drawn international condemnation, including from Doctors Without Borders, which has called for “an immediate and sustained ceasefire.” Rehan and her friends wondered out loud where their artist was. They were met, she says, with “a lot of backlash saying celebrities shouldn’t engage with politics.”

On May 29, hours before Swift took the stage for her Eras tour stop in Madrid, #SwiftiesForPalestine started trending on X, formerly Twitter. Some were using the hashtag to rally concertgoers to show support for Palestinians at the Eras tour: encouraging fans to paint watermelons (a symbol for Palestinian solidarity) on their hands, make pro-Palestinian posters and share their Eras photos with #CeasefireNow and #FreePalestine. Others tagged Swift’s official account, urging her to speak out.

The Swifties for Palestine movement was growing by the day, spreading from X to Instagram and TikTok, from online-only engagement to real-world activism. But someone was missing: Taylor Swift.

At the Eras tour, Swifties take their attire extremely seriously. Fans show up in elaborate Taylor cosplay — homemade versions of her glittery stagewear, stitch-by-stitch re-creations of her red-carpet looks — or in costumes referencing lyrics and inside jokes.

So when Lila Ahssaini, a 21-year-old student in France, was deciding what to wear to the Lyon show — her sixth stop on the Eras tour after attending all four nights in Paris — she went for something custom. At a Parisian flea market, she and a friend had T-shirts made emblazoned with “Speak now Taylor” above the Palestinian flag. The women hid their shirts under their hoodies for fear of being removed from the venue. (They had heard about security confiscating Palestinian flags at other shows.) They removed their sweatshirts for only 15 minutes but did post a photo on X.

“Obviously we’re Taylor fans, so we consider Taylor as like family,” Ahssaini says. “So it was important to us to know: What are her thoughts about it?”

Taylor Swift’s relationship to #SwiftiesForPalestine is like that of God to the universe: She is everywhere and nowhere. Or perhaps a better analogy comes from folklore (as in storytelling tradition, not the album), and Swift is the stone in the soup: the inciting symbol without which nothing would be made but that, on its own, is technically doing nothing at all.

Swift has not made a statement about the war. Since #SwiftiesForPalestine started trending on X, Swift has been absent from the platform. Typically, she posts photos and a grateful caption to both X and Instagram after each Eras tour stop, but she has not posted on X since her May 26 shout-out to Lisbon (“muito obrigada”); instead she’s stuck to Instagram, where her comments are turned off. (Swift’s publicist did not return requests for comment.)

But these fans continued to rally around the #SwiftiesForPalestine hashtag as a parallel debate over celebrity activism raged. One Swiftie named Aya saw this back-and-forth as “pure chaos,” the 23-year-old says in a phone interview. (Aya, who runs a large, anonymous Swiftie fan account, spoke on the condition that her last name not be used.) So she proposed an alternative course of action: Why not create a GoFundMe and call it Swifties For Palestine? Her May 29 tweet read, in part, “I think that would be more useful than us screaming at Taylor.”

When Rehan, the university student in Canada, saw Aya’s tweet, “I really started to think that maybe these two issues” — her love of Swift, her passion for the Palestinian cause — “are much more interconnected than I thought they were,” she says. Rehan was already in a group chat of around 20 Swifties whose initial purpose was to share GoFundMes for Palestinian families so that everyone in the group could repost them, reaching all of their followers. But they wanted to do something more. While they would have been heartened to see Swift speak on the events in Gaza, they quickly came to believe their energies were better spent on Swiftie-to-Swiftie community-building.

One member, Rachel, a 20-year-old from the New York area, remembered how groups of K-pop fans rallied around Black Lives Matter in 2020, using their massive online presence to amplify that movement and raise money. (She spoke on the condition that her last name not be used, fearing backlash in her Jewish community.) Another Swiftie — Cristina Jones, 28, from Britain — already had experience leveraging fan accounts for the cause. She runs a Pedro Pascal fansite that had raised $3,600 for Palestinian charities.

So on June 5, the group launched the Swifties For Palestine GoFundMe. The banner image was of a friendship bracelet spelling out the fundraiser’s title — a nod to the wristwear-swapping tradition that Swifties started during the Eras tour. “Taylor’s music brought us together, and together we can achieve social change,” the GoFundMe reads. “What is Taylor’s discography about if not love, empathy for others, and justice?” (Is it a bit of a reach to interpret Swift’s discography this way? Much of her recent output is focused, allegedly, on the highs and lows of dating Matty Healy.)

The group first set the fundraising goal at $130,000 — 13 being Taylor’s lucky number — but lowered it to $13,000 once they realized they could keep donations open after reaching their target. GoFundMe doesn’t release money to recipients until campaigns hit their goals, and the Swifties wanted to expedite getting their funds to Medical Aid for Palestine Canada, a group providing Palestinians with food, medical equipment, funding for hospital treatment and evacuation assistance.

Jones contacted MAP Canada after the Swifties’ efforts were underway. “We know Taylor Swift, for sure,” the group’s CEO, Farah Albarahmeh, says from Egypt, where she is working on evacuating people from Gaza. “But we never expected that Swifties or any other group from an international artist to know about us or hear about us.”

Donations poured in, mostly in small-but-significant-to-Swifties denominations: $13, $22 (as in: “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling…”), $89 (the year of Swift’s birth) and even $87 (Swift’s boyfriend’s jersey number). One tweet Jones made celebrating former president Donald Trump’s guilty verdict prompted a wave of $34 donations (as in guilty counts — Swifties love a meaningful number). By the weekend, they had exceeded their $13,000 goal. At press time, they had raised 13,786 Canadian dollars, or about $10,000. Even fans without the means to donate are supporting the cause in other ways: Some Swifties have taken to making Palestinian-themed friendship bracelets for their Eras shows, and at least one fan’s bracelet included a QR code for the GoFundMe site.

Aya wasn’t surprised. “This is how the fandom works,” she says. This kind of action “is just what Taylor stands for, in a way. She’s a doer, not a show-er.”

<i>Is it what Taylor stands for? For some Swifties, her silence leaves room for doubt. They are enraged, confused and disappointed by Swift’s apparent disinterest in a humanitarian crisis. Some are even reevaluating their relationship with Swift altogether.

Suha Syed, a first-generation Indian Muslim from Long Island, recalls a childhood spent “looking in wide-eyed wonderment” at Swift. Now 25, Syed just saw Swift perform live for the first time in May, when she went to two stops on the Eras tour. “I’ve gone through every milestone of my life with her music and legacy and art by my side,” Syed says.

Syed’s favorite album is “Speak Now.” She describes in encyclopedic detail the entire backstory of the album’s creation and lingers on one point: The album, penned solely by a teenage Swift, is a diary of “words she wished she could have said but didn’t.” For Syed, it is impossible to think of this record and not apply its message to Gaza. “Are we going to continue watching a genocide unfold in front of our very eyes, or are we going to, as the album says, speak now about what’s right?” (A case brought before the International Court of Justice by South Africa alleges that Israel is violating international law by committing and not preventing genocidal acts. The court has ordered Israel to do more to prevent the deaths of civilians. Israel denies that it is carrying out genocide in Gaza.)

Until Swift makes a statement in support of Palestinians, Syed says she is putting her fandom on “pause” and not streaming any of Swift’s music. Instead, she’s listening only to artists who’ve spoken out against the Israeli invasion, such as Muna, Clairo and Coldplay. Syed knows that Swift is “a billionaire, so one person not streaming her music isn’t going to put a dent in her pockets. … [But] I don’t want any money or revenue to go to any artist, not just Taylor, who hasn’t spoken up about this genocide.”

Syed dismisses those who suggest Swift has stayed silent because she doesn’t “understand” what’s going on. “She’s been friends with the Hadid sisters for a long time now.” (Models Bella and Gigi Hadid recently donated $1 million toward Palestinian relief efforts; they’re the daughters of real estate developer Mohamed Anwar Hadid, whose family fled Nazareth when he was an infant.)

“And Taylor is objectively a very intelligent person,” Syed added. “NYU doesn’t hand out honorary doctorates to people who are stupid.”

“If I really had to get into her mind about this,” Syed theorized, “she probably doesn’t want to disappoint or perhaps agitate fans who identify with the other side, so to speak, of this issue, whether that’s Zionism or Israelis.”

Though there are surely Swifties of every political and cultural stripe under the big tent of her fandom, there does not appear to be a particularly organized or robust pro-Israel Swiftie movement at the moment. (On Instagram, for instance, fewer than 100 posts are tagged with #SwiftiesForIsrael, compared with #SwiftiesForPalestine, which appears on over 1,000.) Extremely online fans will recall that in 2019, the creator of the popular @LegitTayUpdates fan account went to military prison for refusing to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces; when she returned two months later, she posted support for Palestinians and encouraged followers to donate to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

Syed’s sympathy for what she surmises is Swift’s strategic caution has run out. “Seeing children … mothers, fathers, infants … every single form of life being annihilated in front of our very eyes while our tax dollars are paying for it, that’s harder than being a people pleaser. … It’s gut-wrenching, honestly, to know that she or anybody of her fame and influence and power knows about what is going on and still chooses to be silent about it.”

In 2003, the then-Dixie Chicks said that because of the U.S. plan to invade Iraq, they were “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. They went from singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl to being all but blacklisted from the airwaves. Their name became a verb, a warning to any country star hoping to make it in Nashville. When a 16-year-old Swift released her debut album three years later, she had learned from that cautionary tale. As a rising singer-songwriter in country, she kept her politics to herself.

But since crossing over into pop — and enduring a highly publicized sexual assault trial in 2017 — the adult Swift has been more politically outspoken: advocating for LGBTQ rights, abortion access and women’s equality; donating to March for Our Lives after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting; encouraging her fans to vote. In her 2020 documentary “Miss Americana,” a teary-eyed Swift commits to posting about the dangers posed by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn, then running for Senate, despite the potential blowback from, among others, President Donald Trump. Blackburn, Swift argues, votes against “really basic human rights” for women and gay Tennesseans. Warned by a group of advisers, including her father, that making a statement against Blackburn would “halve the number of people that would come to your next tour” and undermine Swift’s security, Swift passionately rejects this counsel: “I need to be on the right side of history.” (Responding to Swift’s statement at the time, Blackburn told Fox News, “Of course I support women, and I want violence to end against women.”)

For Ahssaini, Swift’s “right side of history” line is a telling one. “We really don’t understand why she would pick some fights and not others, since in the end they all have in common human rights and lives,” Ahssaini added in a post-interview message.

But to comment on Gaza would be an unprecedented move for Swift, who politically has yet to wade into international waters. (For instance, she didn’t make a statement about Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.) Swift was spotted attending Ramy Youssef’s stand-up show in December, the proceeds of which went to humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, but that’s as close as she’s come. Meanwhile, plenty of people in Swift’s circles have publicly expressed their support for Palestinians. Shortly after a May 26 Israeli airstrike killed at least 45 people in Rafah, burning civilians alive in a region where tens of thousands of displaced families had taken refuge, Swift’s frequent collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner shared the viral “All Eyes on Rafah” graphic on their Instagram stories. Hayley Williams of the band Paramore, one of the Eras Tour’s openers, posted an Instagram story encouraging fans to donate to Doctors Without Borders and “calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.”

What responsibility does Swift — one of the most famous people on the planet; also, a private citizen — have to weigh in on these world events?

“People like to bring up: She’s not the president, she’s not this or that,” says Syed. “I would say, she has in some cases more influence than these elected politicians. [Anyone] can say these three simple words: Genocide is bad. You don’t have to be a king to say that. You have to be a human being.”

Swifties, like other intensely devoted pop fandoms, have a reputation for intolerance — that is, for lashing out at anyone who dares to criticize their idol and the fans who adore her. But for some, the #SwiftiesForPalestine movement is proving to be the one place where they feel their views are tolerated, at least when it comes to Israel.

Rachel, who is Jewish, does not remember even hearing the word “Palestine” until she was a sophomore in high school. She went on Birthright — an all-expenses-paid 10-day tour of Israel, funded in part by the Israeli government, for Jewish Americans age 18 to 26 — and was rattled by the trip, whose messaging “sounded very propaganda-speak-y”; when she returned home, she did her own research into the history of the region. She described the Swiftieverse as the only place where she can freely express her support for Palestinian liberation. “In my real life, it’s a difficult balance figuring out where I can advocate and what spaces are going to allow me to do that without causing immense mental or relationship strains,” she said.

The same day the Swifties started their GoFundMe, Rachel and a few other Swifties for Palestine started a new X account: @SwiftChange13, a “central place” for Swifties to find information and resources on the conflict. They recently ran a “13 Days for Palestine” project, highlighting different humanitarian initiatives fans can support. But the vision is broader than that. Learning more about this conflict, for example, led Rachel to read about human rights atrocities in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. She hopes that @SwiftChange13 can expand awareness for other Swifties, too.

Due in part to the success of their GoFundMe, the Swifties for Palestine feel empowered to wield their strength more widely. “I think we’ve proven, as a fandom … we are capable of making change,” Rehan says. Though this may sound ironic coming from someone so immersed in fandom, Rehan says “we shouldn’t be focusing our energies onto celebrities in general. We can come together on our own.”

“This wasn’t the end of our activism,” Rachel said. “It could just be the beginning, instead.”

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