Israeli music scene jolted by international boycott movement

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Meteor Festival was meant to bring together indie groups from around the world in what organizers billed as a Woodstock-like "cutting edge musical journey that surpasses borders and distorts time and space."

Instead, some 20 acts, including headliner Lana Del Rey, withdrew at the last minute amid apparent pressure from a Palestinian-led international boycott campaign.

The cancellations turned the weekend festival, held in the bucolic setting of an Israeli kibbutz, into the latest battleground between Israel and the boycott movement that says it seeks to end Israeli rule over Palestinians.

Campaign organizers claimed success, saying it reflects growing opposition to Israeli government policies among international millennials.

"The fact that these artists are canceling is showing just how different the younger generation is viewing Israel," said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian analyst who supports the movement known as BDS.

The campaign, founded in 2005, calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.

BDS says it seeks to end Israel's occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and what it describes as discrimination against Israel's Arab minority. It calls for the "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to homes their ancestors fled or were expelled from in the 1948 war over Israel's creation.

The campaign compares itself to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13: Lana Del Rey is seen on June 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 24: Lana Del Rey seen arriving at Kings Cross St Pancras Eurostar Station on July 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Neil Mockford/GC Images)
Singer Lana Del Rey performs during the Lollapalooza music festival at the Longchamp Hippodrome in Paris, on July 23, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
HULL, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Lana Del Rey attends Day 1 of BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend 2017 at Burton Constable Hall on May 27, 2017 in Hull, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - MAY 20: Singer Lana Del Rey performs during the 2017 KROQ Weenie Roast Y Fiesta at StubHub Center on May 20, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Lana Del Rey seen out in Manhattan on May 2, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Kamau/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 06: Lana Del Rey is seen on September 06, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stone-e/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 07: Lana Del Rey performs during the 2016 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on August 7, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Singer Lana Del Rey arrives at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Singer Lana Del Rey attends the 24th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation's Oscar viewing party on February 28, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 01: Lana Del Rey is seen at LAX on June 01, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
SANTIAGO, CHILE - MARCH 18: Lana del Rey performs during the third day of Lollapalooza Chile 2018 at Parque O'Higgins on March 18, 2018 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 16: Singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey performs during a stop of her LA to the Moon Tour in support of the album 'Lust for Life' at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on February 16, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Recording artist Lana Del Rey attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND- NOVEMBER 12: Lana Del Rey attends the MTV EMAs 2017 held at The SSE Arena, Wembley on November 12, 2017 in London, England. ( Photo by Rune Hellestad- Corbis/ Corbis via Getty Images).
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: Singer Lana Del Rey performs at Terminal 5 on October 23, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28: Lana Del Rey and Jhen�Aiko at H.O.M.E. by Martell hosted by Jhene Aiko on September 28, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Martell)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: Lana Del Rey performs in support of her 'Lust for Life' release at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on September 5, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 27: Singer Lana Del Rey (L) and Borns attend BORNS Single Release Event at Highland Park Bowl on July 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 24: Lana Del Rey seen arriving at Kings Cross St Pancras Eurostar Station on July 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Neil Mockford/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 04: Lana Del Rey is seen on July 04, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by BG002/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13: Lana Del Rey is seen on June 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
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Israel claims the campaign masks a deeper aim of delegitimizing or even destroying the country.

Although BDS says it's pushed some companies and investment funds to curtail their activities in Israel, its economic impact appears to be modest. Israel's high-tech economy is humming along, making it an attractive base for corporate giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and others. World leaders visit regularly to promote business ties.

Culture and academia have been easier targets. Virtually any artist who plans to perform in Israel these days can expect to come under pressure on social media to cancel.

A growing list of performers, including Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman and singer Lorde, have canceled appearances in Israel in recent months out of concern over Israeli policies.

Del Rey joined that list on Aug. 31 when she announced that she was withdrawing from the Meteor Festival after an intense BDS lobbying campaign. In a statement on Twitter, the Grammy-nominated singer said she was "postponing" until she could perform for both Israeli and Palestinian audiences.

Other no-shows included "of Montreal," a popular indie band that previously performed in Israel.

"Now is not the time for escapism and celebrations," it said on Facebook. "Now is the time for activism and protests against Israeli apartheid, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the human rights atrocities being carried out every day in Gaza by Israeli forces."

It is difficult to quantify the impact of BDS pressure.

Del Rey did not explicitly endorse the boycott message, and Portman said outright that she does not support BDS. Del Rey and several artists who skipped the Meteor Festival did not respond to interview requests.

Meanwhile, numerous A-listers, including Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber, have performed in Israel in recent years. Later this month some of the world's top DJs are expected to converge on Tel Aviv for the DGTL festival. Last year, the Australian musician Nick Cave accused the boycott movement of trying to "bully" artists who played in Israel.

Still, the movement's inroads have raised alarm in Israel.

Opinion polls indicate waning support for Israel

Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs spends millions of dollars fighting BDS and has banned some activists from entering the country. Israel and its supporters also run outreach programs on U.S. college campuses in the battle for hearts and minds.

This comes at a time when opinion polls indicate waning support for Israel among American millennials.

A survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that 32 percent of Americans under the age of 30 sympathize more with Israel, compared with 23 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. The poll found that older Americans are much more sympathetic to Israel.

The numbers are not surprising.

Opinion polls indicate that American millennials tend to be more liberal than their parents on issues ranging from race to same-sex marriage to immigration. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's close ties with President Donald Trump, his alliance with conservative evangelical Christians and a nationalistic agenda that includes a Jewish nation state law widely seen as sidelining Arabs all risk alienating younger liberals.

In the case of the Meteor Festival, Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry said a "small minority" of musicians backed out, arguing that they had fallen prey "to the incitement and hate-filled agenda of the Israel boycott movement."

Festival organizers argued that music should unite people and that BDS "insanely politicized our event."

The Jerusalem Post newspaper, which opposes BDS, said Del Rey's cancellation should be a wake-up call for those in Israel trying to play down the potential dangers posed by the campaign.

"Artists like Del Rey and Lorde, and DJs like Leon Vynehall and Python are followed by millions of impressionable fans who are totally ignorant of the complexities and nuances of the Middle East," it wrote in an editorial. "The only thing they know is that their favorite artist is more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis."

In the end, thousands of people attended the Meteor Festival.

Many camped out under the stars, and fans enjoyed an eclectic mix of dozens of artists over three days. Media critics gave it warm reviews, barely mentioning the BDS issue.

Campaign had succeeded 'beyond expectations'

"There was a good atmosphere and people enjoyed themselves. They were excited about the artists who were coming and didn't notice that much who was missing," said Nitzan Amitay, 25, a volunteer festival organizer.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, said the campaign against Meteor had succeeded "beyond expectations," estimating that roughly 40 percent of international artists pulled out. He said fans of such bands are a natural audience for his message.

"The common denominator is younger fans that are more progressive and liberal," he said.

BDS now has its sights on a more high-profile target — the Eurovision Song Contest. Israel is expected to host the hugely popular event next year, and last week dozens of European artists, led by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, signed a letter calling for the contest to be moved to another country.

"If Eurovision is hosted by Israel, and this is still quite uncertain, it would art-wash Israel's regime of occupation and apartheid," Barghouti said.

 

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