A number of high-profile cancellations turned Israel’s Meteor music festival into the latest battleground involving the boycott movement seeking to end Israeli rule over Palestinians.
The festival was meant to bring together indie groups from around the world in what organisers 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 the BDS campaign.
Campaign organisers have claimed success, saying it reflects growing opposition to Israeli government policies among international millennials.
“The fact that these artists are cancelling is showing just how different the younger generation is viewing Israel,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian analyst who supports BDS – which stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions.
The campaign, founded in 2005, calls for such actions to be taken against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.
BDS said it seeks to end Israel’s occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Middle East 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 non-violent message has resonated with audiences around the world.
Israel said the campaign masks a deeper aim of delegitimising or even destroying the country.
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 August 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,” the group 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.”
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.
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.
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 programmes on US 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.
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 organisers argued that music should unite people and that BDS “insanely politicised our event”.
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.
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.