Lana Del Rey pulls out of Israel's Meteor festival amid backlash. Has boycott culture gone too far?
Are we, on The Left, so incapable of hearing a plurality of positions that the only option is to scream and shout until someone caves in? We truly are living through a paralysing time for self-expression.
Lana Del Rey has pulled out of an Israeli music festival called Meteor that she was initially billed to play at. When her name was announced on the line-up a few weeks ago, a backlash of intergalactic proportions ensued for her alleged support of a country that is guilty of countless human rights violations against Palestinian communities.
One would have assumed, in today’s culture, that this monumental outcry would have prompted Del Rey to reconsider immediately and back out. However, in a moment of considered and self-aware clarity, Del Rey explained that she would not, in fact, be pulling out.
Her fans, the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) and Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel asked the 'Young and Beautiful' singer to observe the cultural boycott against the government’s occupation of Palestine. Her initial statement respectfully declined:
‘I understand many of u are upset that we’re going to Tel Aviv for the Meteor festival,’ she wrote on Twitter. ‘What I can tell you is I believe music is universal and should be used to bring us together. We signed on to the show w the intention that it would be performed for the kids there and my plan was for it to be done w a loving energy w a thematic emphasis on peace.’
She added: ‘If you don’t agree with it I get it. I see both sides. But me and my band have been performing all over the world for months out of the years for close to 10 years now together. And we’re about to travel to a place that many big bands are playing this year and at this festival. We don’t always agree with the politics of the places we play within or even in our own country – sometimes we don’t even feel safe, depending on how far abroad we travel – but we are musicians and we’ve dedicated our lives to being on the road.’
This did not do enough to quell the growing hostility towards Del Rey and her band’s billing on the line-up. She took to Instagram to further clarify her position: ‘My views on democracy and oppression are aligned with most liberal views,’ Del Rey wrote. ‘We will still be playing our show in Israel.
‘That being said, I understand the concern towards showing support to the Palestinians too. So I just wanted to let you know when I’m in Israel I will be visiting Palestine too and I look forward to meeting both Palestinian and Israeli children and playing music for everyone. I want peace for both Israel and Palestine.’
The musician concluded her note with a direct message to Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, a supporter of the cultural boycott. ‘I read your statement about taking action even when you believe in neutrality. I totally understand what you’re saying and this is my action.’ She signed off the note as ‘L’.
Although many will disagree with Del Rey’s stance, it was refreshingly clear and it appeared to come from a place of personal consideration. Therefore, I was disappointed to read that she has now decided to retract her previous commitment and has bowed to pressure by cancelling the appearance.
Let’s get one thing straight: Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people is abhorrent; it should be criticised and it should be scrutinised. Yet this latest incident has, for me, proven that boycott culture has gone too far. It is evident that Del Rey pulled out due to coercion and pressure from external voices, not of her own will and accord.
This begs the question as to what we want to achieve by forcing idols and entertainers to fall in line with whatever stance the majority of liberal people take even if they don’t believe it themselves. It's as if they are hostages to a polarised rhetoric and don't dare detract for fear of being boycotted themselves. Do we even know what our icons actually think? I personally would not travel to Israel currently or throw my support under their arts events, but I respect that someone like Del Rey feels differently.
Why are we so incapable of hearing a plurality of positions on The Left? I do believe we are living through one of the most parylising moments for freedom of expression and nuance in our cultural dialogue. There is a one-size-fits-all mentality and it is destroying our ability to have true debate. True reflection.
What irks me even more is the eagerness to reduce complex, multi-faceted geopolitical issues into one neat dichotomy of right vs. wrong. A stance that can be easily summarised in a 280-character tweet. And it is usually commentators from the West - such as ourselves - that will foist our own ‘hot take’ on the narrative without allowing any breathing space for others.
Would it be too reductive to make the point that nobody appears to be calling for a boycott of American gigs in light of Donald Trump and America's long history of aggressive foreign policy? Perhaps. There is some truth in it, though. Trump’s State Department just announced that it is cutting funding to the UN agency that is tasked with helping Palestinian refugees. The Trump administration is propping up the Israeli state and is ravaging Palestine. The US government even recognises Jerusalem - not Tel Aviv - as the capital of Israel.
If we are a community of boycott advocates, where is the collective outrage for artists billed on American festivals? Or any other festivals for that matter. Playing a gig in a country does not equal support for its government. And there are everyday civilians living in Israel - children, teenagers - who want to see their favourite artists play. Why should they be denied that if the artist in question is comfortable playing for them?
If Del Rey truly believes that it is right to boycott Meteor festival, then kudos to her for cancelling her appearance. But it feels like she was bullied into ‘doing the right thing’ by collective rage. Last November, Nick Cave said he was making 'a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians' and complained of 'a sort of public humiliation from Roger Waters and co' for those who do choose to play in Israel.
Radiohead went ahead with a concert in Tel Aviv in July 2017, with Thom Yorke arguing that 'playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government … We don’t endorse Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America.'
Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, DJ Koze, Pusha T, Yung Lean, and Ariel Pink are just some of the other artists on the line-up for the Tel Aviv festival, which is due to go ahead next weekend. Will more follow suit and pull out? Or did Del Rey become victim to boycott culture because she is liberalism’s starlet?