Cultural Boycott of Israel: Right or Wrong?
For my first post on the issue of how politics play a role in the music world, I chose a recent story surrounding one of my favorite artists, Lorde. In her upcoming world tour, she was scheduled to play a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel on June 5th, 2018. Only six days after, the singer announced that she would cancel the show due to urging from a variety of sources, namely the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is a group of people that promote a boycott of all things Israel. They cite human rights violations against Palestinians by the Israeli government as a reason for their movement. Lorde, or Ella Yelich-O’Conner, is only twenty-one years old, but she is under intense public scrutiny due to the success of her first two albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. The fact that she chose to support the boycott is a major victory for the BDS movement because it drew the attention of a younger crowd that is worldwide. Shortly after cancelling, she issued a public statement, saying “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I have done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”
Initially, I was outraged at this action. I thought about thousands of young girls like me who admire her just as I do who would be denied the awesome experience that is live music. In my eyes, the fans that had certainly supported her music were not responsible for the policymaking in Israel that had caused the cultural boycott. Why should they be punished for the country they live in? As with any controversy, there are two very compelling arguments, and I needed to know the full story.
So, why a cultural boycott? How are they hoping to improve things by this method? The BDS movement says that by playing shows in Israel, artists help to legitimize Israel as a “normal country”. By cancelling their shows and pledging to support the movement, musicians draw attention to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The most vocal of these artists seems to be Roger Waters, a co-founder of Pink Floyd. Other prominent figures are U2, Snoop Dogg, and Lauryn Hill. On the other hand, several big names have played shows in Israel among the same calls to cancel: Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The BDS movement has an enormous presence on social media, so I think that this has caused young people like myself to believe that support for it is stronger than in reality. As a young artist, Lorde probably felt this pressure as well. I wish I could know if her decision was sincere, or if it was pushed on her by the people that surrounded her and contacted her online. In a situation like this, I feel as though even those with strong viewpoints can buckle. Ironically, Lorde’s first album, Pure Heroine (read my analysis of this album here!), seemed to focus a lot on how her life was changing in the public eye. One of my favorite lines is the last thing you hear on the album “Let ’em talk”. However, she said that she was talking to many people with different viewpoints about this decision, signaling to me that she felt lost in the opinions of others.
Now, I want my readers to consider the impact of this decision on the world. Is this a contamination to the music industry to make something as joyful as a concert taboo? Is the BDS movement correct in saying that playing music in Israel legitimizing the country, or is that just something that detractors use to gain more media attention? After writing this article, my viewpoint has changed, but now I feel sad for both fans and artists who would rather keep music out of the political spotlight. I think that any decision that she would have made would decrease her popularity, and other artists may take this as a lesson in the future to avoid the controversy by not scheduling a tour date in Israel to begin with. Overall, it looks like the BDS movement is gaining ground and this could help them to turn the tide.