Lana Del Rey, when it comes to Palestine, it's always political

Lana Del Rey, when it comes to Palestine, it's always political
Comment: It's difficult to imagine a more political action than participating in the normalisation of occupied Palestine, writes Malia Bouattia.
6 min read
23 Aug, 2018
In 2014, the singer did cancel her concert in Israel amid attacks on Gaza [Getty]
As the late Thomas Mann put it, everything is political. 

Singer Lana Del Rey, however, seems to think otherwise, judging by her justification for disregarding the Palestinian call for cultural boycott, in order to perform in Israel in early September.

The singer released a statement over twitter, saying that, "I would like to remind you that performing in Tel Aviv is not a political statement or a commitment to the politics there" which, naturally met with an angry backlash from advocates for Palestinian rights and freedom. The general outrage was made worse by the singer's previous decision in 2014, to cancel her show in Israel amid the attacks on Gaza, which killed thousands of Palestinians.

One has to wonder, then, what has possibly changed in relation to the occupation of Palestine and the blockade on Gaza, which could make it any less "political" - at least enough to take up the invitation to join the Meteor festival that is being hosted by Israel.

If anything, things have continued to deteriorate - illegal settlements have expanded, the Palestinian civilian death toll has risen, and the world looked on for months while the Israeli Army continued shooting protesters from The Great Return March in total impunity.

The size of the refugee population has grown, the institutionalisation of Israel as an apartheid state has been further strengthened with the introduction of the Jewish nation state law, and the daily systematic repression and oppression of Palestinians has continued with no accountability from international bodies.

I very much doubt that Del Rey does not understand the significance of her actions by choosing to 'cross the Boycott picket', not only because of her past decision against doing so, but also because of another post she released via Instagram in which she stated that she understood the "the concern towards showing support to the Palestinians too" adding:

Many other artists have understood that their presence holds the weight of complicity, and have since withdrawn

"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."

If her presence in the land is as innocent and "neutral" as she presents it to be, surely the festival would be treated as just another gig venue where she will sing, maybe speak to some adoring fans and then leave? Why would such concerted effort - which certainly appears to be political - be included in the tour, if Del Rey was in fact committed to a view of her visit as apolitical or unproblematic?

PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, responded to the singer's decision, urging her to reconsider, stating that:

"Del Rey's attempt to place herself and music above politics is belied by how Israel deliberately uses artists to whitewash its image, and it ignores Israel's targeted attacks on Palestinian cultural institutions - including the Israeli army's deliberate destruction of the Said al-Mishal cultural centre in Gaza earlier this month, one of the few major venues in the besieged territory."

PACBI further made clear that her offer to visit Palestinian children would be tokensitic and empty in the face of her performance, because like Black South African during apartheid, "Palestinians are asking for meaningful solidarity - not charity - as we resist Israel's decades-long oppression".

Her involvement in the Meteor festival is particularly important as it is part of the Israeli state's efforts to rehabilitate its image internationally.

Many other artists
have understood that their presence holds the weight of complicity, and have since withdrawn. Music group Black Motion, as well as Bands Khalas and Zenobia are among those who have cancelled their performances. Others made clear that they would not engage from the offset, with Ross From Friends, Deadboy and How to Dress Well having all expressed their refusals.

The Palestinian call for cultural boycott of the festival, which has been signed by a long list of Palestinian groups including Yabous Cultural Centre, Nawa for Culture and Arts Association and Asayel Dance Troupe (to name a few), also highlighted the direct violations of Palestinian rights and demands for freedom, which will be committed by the event taking place. They write:

"The Meteor festival recommends accommodation located in illegal Israeli settlements built in violation of international law in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

Israel's expanding illegal settlements steal the land and resources of millions of Palestinians living under military occupation. Israel's bulldozers
demolish Palestinian homes and villages, leaving families and entire communities homeless refugees in our own land."

Not only will foreign festival goers and performers break the international boycott picket line, they will actively participate in the normalisation of the dispossession, displacement, and exile of the Palestinian people. It is difficult to imagine a more political action.

Equally hypocritical is way that Israel treats Palestinian artists, as it attempts to present itself as a platform for international musical creatives. Its censuring of Palestinian voices within the arts continues to be a systematic practice of the occupation.

For example, recently poet
Dareen Tatour was sentenced with five months in prison for a poem that she has published over social media, following three years under house arrest. The poem, which spoke of resistance in the face of renewed attacks by Israelis on Palestinians, was said to be "inciting terrorism", despite her clarifying throughout the trial that she spoke of nonviolent action.

While it can feel like Israel's impunity on the world stage is unshakable, international solidarity is very much growing.

Foreign festival goers and performers are breaking the international boycott picket line

Its practices, seeped with racist double standards have provoked a call for action. In the case of Tatour, over 300 literary figures in the US have signed an open letter calling on her release, including Alice Walker.

Furthermore, thousands of other renowned musicians and singers including Lauryn Hill, Lorde, Shakira, Wolf Alice and Chuck D have all supported the call for BDS over the years.

This is largely thanks to the pressure applied, first by Palestinians then by the international community that seeks to support their liberation.

Read more: 
Lana Del Rey slammed for justifying Israel concert with 'peaceful energy' defence

From social media hashtags, which raise awareness in the artists and in those around them, to the direct lobbying through letter writing and emails to convince artists to respect the boycott, the many tactics adopted by the movement have had great influence on successful campaigns for cultural boycott.

Indeed, while Del Rey attempts to sell her performance as an apolitical exercise in bringing people together, people around the world will not be fooled.

There can be no rapprochement while military occupation, discriminatory laws, an apartheid wall, a murderous blockade, and the forced exile of millions continue to make political reconciliation impossible.

If Lana Del Rey wishes to call on the power of art - as she states - she should do so by refusing to sing odes to occupation and dispossession, until all are free to attend.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff