Bridges, not boycotts

The Meteor Festival in northern Israel opened on September 6 with dozens of artists from around the world. They included many performers who were pressured to boycott – such as Kamasi Washington, Pusha T, Soulwax, and Mura Masa – but instead created a space where Israeli fans of all backgrounds and opinions could set aside their differences and come together in peace.

Despite the incredible lineup and ultimate success of the event, we at Creative Community For Peace are deeply saddened that Lana Del Rey (and several others) decided to pull out of the festival and postpone their performances in Israel.

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We recognize that Lana’s decision might have been made with the best of intentions. “It’s important to me to perform in both Palestine and Israel and treat all my fans equally,” she wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately it hasn’t been possible to line up both visits with such short notice and therefore I’m postponing my appearance at the Meteor Festival until a time when I can schedule visits for both my Israeli and Palestinian fans, as well as hopefully other countries in the region.

Why is it difficult to perform for both Israelis and Palestinians?

Lana isn’t the first artist to try and fail to perform in both Israeli and Palestinian venues, nor to misunderstand the reason for the failure. In another high-profile incident in 2015, Ms. Lauryn Hill canceled her scheduled performance in Tel Aviv after she was unable to schedule a corresponding gig in Ramallah. “Setting up a performance in the Palestinian territory at the same time as our show in Israel proved to be a challenge,” she wrote on Facebook.

Like Lana Del Rey, who cited “short notice,” Lauryn Hill gave the impression that it was logistical or time constraints that prevented her from being able to set up both shows. However, apparently unbeknown to both artists, this is not the case. Even had they tried to set up both shows years in advance, they would have been unlikely to succeed, as the true culprit behind these failures is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement and the pressure its activists exert on Palestinian concert venues not to welcome artists who perform in Israel.

The movement works to isolate Israel in the cultural, academic, diplomatic and economic spheres. One of its primary activities is pressuring international artists not to perform in Israel. Aside from Lana Del Rey, some of the other participants scheduled to perform at the Meteor Festival – including Shlohmo and DJ Volvox – backed out due to this pressure, which has been relentlessly directed at them on social media for several weeks. This BDS tactic is well known.

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Lesser known, however, is the pressure the boycott movement exerts on Palestinian venues not to host artists who do perform in Israel. It’s part of a branch within the boycott movement known as “anti-normalization.” Whereas the wider BDS movement pressures the international community not to travel to Israel or collaborate with Israelis, its anti-normalization branch does the same to Palestinians themselves.

For example, anti-normalization activists within the boycott movement condemn projects such as Heartbeat FM and the West-Eastern Divan, which bring young Israelis and Palestinians together to collaborate through music. They discourage Palestinian participation because they believe that the groups “normalize” relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

ANTI-NORMALIZATION goes even further, not only barring Palestinians from collaborating with Israelis, but also barring Palestinians from engaging with anyone else who has collaborated with Israelis. Last October, for instance, the boycott movement successfully pressured the Ramallah Municipality into canceling the screening of The Insult, a film by Lebanese director Ziad Doueri.
The film has nothing to do with Israel. So why was it canceled? Simply because Mr. Doueri once filmed a separate project of his in Israel and has now been branded a “normalizer.”

The pressure that led to the ban on Ziad Doueri’s screening in Ramallah is the same pressure that prevented Lana Del Rey and Lauryn Hill from scheduling performances in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. When Lana first wrote of her intention to schedule such a show, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) – the primary cultural boycott organization within the wider BDS movement – responded on Twitter, making it clear that she would only be welcome to perform for Palestinians if she performed only for Palestinians, and not for Israelis as well. “We would welcome you to Palestine should you cancel your Meteor performance,” PACBI wrote (emphasis theirs). The implication was, of course, that they wouldn’t welcome her if she didn’t cancel her show in Israel.

From the Israeli side, by contrast, there are no impediments to performing in both Israeli and Palestinian venues. On the contrary, Israeli concert promoters even offer to help artists they book in Israel try to schedule shows in Palestinian venues as well. The only obstacle is that Palestinian venues nearly always fall in line with the anti-normalization demands of the boycott movement and refuse to host artists who perform in Israel, effectively forcing artists to choose either their Israeli or Palestinian fans.

While the boycott movement cloaks itself as a “peaceful, human rights movement,” our responsibility is to educate artists to its true nature. We must expose the fact that the movement’s leaders and founders support the Palestinian right to self-determination while denying Israel’s. We must point out that boycott supporters – including Roger Waters – regularly make extreme and false comments about Israel, in particular by claiming that the country engages in “apartheid” and “genocide.” We must also remind artists that they are playing for their fans and not for governments.

Additionally, we encourage artists to reach out to the many organizations that promote co-existence and to show their support to some of the many organizations on the ground that bring Israelis and Palestinians together. Despite the boycott movement and its anti-normalization campaign we must encourage moderates on both sides who believe that dialogue and cooperation (especially through the arts) is the only path forward.

Finally, we urge all people around the world who believe in bridges rather than boycotts to speak out forcefully against the boycott movement and show their support to artists who choose to perform for their fans in Israel and wherever else they may be.
The writers are co-founders of Creative Community for Peace, an entertainment industry organization based in Los Angeles that represents a cross-section of the creative world dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel.

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