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Israeli music scene struggles with boycott

September 10, 2018

Israel's Meteor Festival aimed for a Woodstock-like ambiance with global indie groups, but many acts canceled this weekend as part of a boycott. Other artists have called for a global boycott of next year's Eurovision.

Singer Lana Del Rey
Image: Imago/PA Images/D. Lawson

Organizers of Israel's Meteor Festival this weekend said it was supposed to be a "cutting edge musical journey that surpasses borders and distorts time and space." But that endeavor was dashed as some 20 acts, including headliner Lana Del Rey, withdrew at the last minute in response to apparent pressure from a Palestinian-led international boycott campaign.

It's just the latest event in the struggle between Israel and the boycott movement that says it wants to end Israeli rule over Palestinians.

Read more: Israel and BDS: A controversial boycott divides the West 

Campaign organizers have claimed success, saying the cancellations demonstrate increasing opposition to Israeli government policies among young people around the world. "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, speaking with The Associated Press.

The BDS campaign calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli firms, cultural organizations and places of higher learning.

Eurovision next?

In another move, music legends Roger Waters and Brian Eno, filmmakers Ken Loach, Kaurismaki and Mike Leigh, writers Yann Martel and A. L. Kennedy and actor Julie Christie, among 140 other artists — including six Israelis — have called for a ban on Israel hosting next year's Eurovision Song Contest. 

In a letter published in The Guardian on Friday, the group named human rights violations on the part of Israel against Palestinians as their motivation.

The Guardian: Boycott Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Israel

"We, the undersigned artists from Europe and beyond, support the heartfelt appeal from Palestinian artists to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 hosted by Israel," said the letter. "Until Palestinians can enjoy freedom, justice and equal rights, there should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights."

Israeli singer Netta won this year's contest in Lisbon with her song "Toy." Eurovision rules state the winning country is to host the following year's competition.

Eurovision Song Contest 2018 - Finale Netta Israel
Netta won this year's ESC with her song "Toy," inspired by the #MeToo movementImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Carstensen

Mixed views

BDS, which was founded in 2005, says it seeks an end to Israel's occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and what it calls discrimination against Israel's Arab minority.

It has also called for a "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to homes their ancestors fled or were forced from in the 1948 war over Israel's creation.

A growing list of performers, including Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman and singer Lorde, have canceled recent appearances in Israel due to what they say is concern over Israeli policies.

However, Lana Del Rey did not explicitly endorse the recent BDS boycott message, as a tweet from the Grammy-nominated singer on August 31 showed.

Portman has clearly said she does not support BDS. Del Rey and other artists who canceled their performances at Meteor Festival did not respond to interview requests, AP reported.

Other top artists, such as the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Aerosmith, Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber, have chosen to perform in Israel in recent years. Last year, Australian musician Nick Cave said the BDS boycott movement was trying to "bully" artists who played in Israel.

als/cmk (AP, dpa)