Last weekend, a three-day music festival called Meteor in the northern Israeli kibbutz Lehavot Habashan took place. Less than a week before the start, the leading star of the festival, Lana Del Rey, responding to massive pressure from the BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions– campaign, cancelled. She noted her solidarity with Palestinians:
“It’s important to me to perform in both Palestine and Israel and treat all my fans equally. Unfortunately it hasn’t been possible to line up both visits with such short notice and therefore I’m postponing my appearance”, she wrote.
“Sorry for short notice but I will NOT be playing in Israel next week. Sorry to the fans Im letting down and to the festival staff but supporting the oppressed thru my absence is more important to me especially after the government’s recent human rights atrocities.”
This still left over 130 performances in the festival (including some 80 Israeli performers), but with all the singing and dancing, it’s hard to ignore that BDS has had a major effect here.
Writing in Haaretz, Idit Frenkel called this a “tsunami of cancellations”, and was noting that this tsunami seems to be threatening even Tel-Aviv:
We may be reaching the day when the boycott movement bursts the escapist bubble of Israel’s nightlife…The current tsunami of cancellations, while it might sound trivial if you’re untutored in trance music, could reflect a trend with effects far beyond the Meteor Festival. In the optimistic scenario, this is a one-off event that has cast the spotlight on lesser-known musicians as well. In the pessimistic scenario, this is the end of an era in which the clubbing scene has been an exception.
So there’s a connection between the northern kibbutz and the “escapist bubble” of Tel-Aviv.
The Meteor festival could hardly hide its contempt for the BDS in its official response statement on the 24th of August. It called all the pressure from the BDS campaign a “BDS ambush”, and tried to discredit the boycott calls by stating that it was “receiving no support, funds or benefits from any governmental or political entity” – as if that was the basis for boycott to begin with. Meteor thus claimed that the calls were “absurd” and the festival was “100% politics free… an escapist and pure peace experience”.
Finally, Meteor said:
“No one will make us hate, that includes the BDS which insanely politicised our event. no one. Music heals, politics kills”.
Thus, the festival tried to frame the BDS as hateful and insane.
Idit Frenkel in Haaretz had also characterized Tel Aviv as an “escapist” bubble. And she echoed that idea of “no… politics.”
“Israel’s nightlife and clubbing scene – especially in Tel Aviv – had been an oasis regarding cultural boycotts, an extraterritorial hedonistic space with no room for politics”.
Yet Frenkel seemed to recognize that this bubble is bursting. And she’s clearly worried about it.
The Meteor festival is not a bubble. It takes place in Israel.
This is where I would like to draw a historical comparison to another supposed ‘bubble’ in the time of South African Apartheid: Sun City.
Sun City was established in 1979, in the Bantustan of Bophuthatswana. A lavish hotel and casino resort was built in what was then declared an ‘independent homeland’ by the Apartheid regime. Bophuthatswana was not recognized as a state by any country, but the local relaxation of Apartheid rules and the more liberal culture there served as a whitewash of Apartheid.
The UN imposed a cultural boycott on South Africa in 1980, so the founding hotel magnet Sol Kerzner offered lavish sums to international artists who were willing to defy the UN boycott.
Frank Sinatra performed there in 1981 for $2 million. Many well-known performers played there in the early 80’s – Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Queen, Elton John, etc.
Now let’s just jump back to Israel again, and look at the money issue in particular:
Lana Del Rey, Meteor’s big cancellation, sells some of the most expensive tickets in the world (after Beyoncé among female artists), for around $270. Nonetheless, her appearance fee has reportedly been $75,000.
But notice how much she was offered, and paid in advance, by the Israeli Meteor festival: $700,000, according to Variety‘s source. That’s about 9 times her normal fee.
That fee multiple resembles a case with another big star from a few years back – Sinéad O’Connor, who in 2014 finally said, “I won’t play in Israel”.
“Normally I get paid about ten grand for a gig, this offer was for a hundred grand,” she reveals. “I was refusing and refusing for a year, and a certain amount of pressure was put on me…”
The gig O’Connor was referring to was supposed to be in Caesarea, on the coast 30 miles north of Tel Aviv. So it’s not just about one particular city/bubble in Israel.
Let’s jump back south, once again, to Sun City. By the mid 1980’s, it was becoming seriously contentious to perform for Apartheid South Africa in the supposed ‘liberal island’ of Sun City. In 1985, a protest song called “Sun City” was launched by Artists United Against Apartheid. The Chorus went “I ain’t gonna play Sun City”. The video opens with an official Apartheid propaganda clip, which tells us all that we need to know about Sun City’s value for Apartheid:
“Sun city is the showplace of Bophuthatswana. One of the so-called ‘independent homelands’ where South African blacks have been relocated. It’s a lavish resort, where you can relax and enjoy some of the world’s headline entertainers – it’s part of the reality of Apartheid”.
“Part of the reality of Apartheid” – no one would use that today for promotion. “Apartheid” has become an actual crime against humanity, and the notion of it is a disgrace. But many were subscribing to this whitewash in the early 80’s. Notice Rolling Stone’s coverage from 1982:
Last summer, for example, the resort bagged Frank Sinatra for a week, at an estimated price tag of $2 million. It was a stunning propaganda coup. “Sinatra’s appearance at Sun City could strongly influence other entertainers who may be reluctant to perform there because they assume that Bophuthatswana is in South Africa,” said Sinatra’s press agent, Lee Solters.
Get that? The Rolling Stone was uncritically citing Sinatra’s agent essentially saying that Bophuthatswana is NOT in South Africa, and that it’s only a misguided assumption of some entertainers. Even the official propaganda video said “so-called ‘independent homeland’”, and no country in the world recognized it as separate from South Africa, but Sinatra’s agent is eager to promote this false notion. Surely, there was a nice chunk for him out of that $2 million.
So finally, back north to Israel. Israel is also trying to whitewash its Apartheid, although it certainly doesn’t want to call it that. It is also trying to create ‘alternate realities’ wherein this Apartheid supposedly doesn’t exist. Tel-Aviv is in many ways marketed as such a “bubble”.
But this is a soap-bubble which exists only because people maintain the fantasy, that Tel Aviv, or kibbutz Lehavot Habashan, or Caesarea, are NOT part of Apartheid Israel. This fantasy exists because people want it to exist – it is a form of denial. Israel’s Apartheid is not only worse than South Africa’s, it is intrinsic in its founding ideology and is existent throughout all of its facets. The more overt, indeed murderous form of Apartheid in the 1967 occupied territories is but one facet of it. Israel is not showing any signs of relinquishing it, and never really has. People are beginning to get this: If you are performing in Israel, you are performing for Apartheid, just like you were playing for Apartheid when you played Sun City. That’s the reality of Apartheid.
A new chorus line is forming up from these many cancellations, and like with the song “Sun City”, it’s saying: “I ain’t gonna play Israel”.
Thanks to Dan Swanson, Philip Weiss, Raymond Deane, Remi Kanazi