The dilemma Lana Del Rey and others face performing in Israel

It's becoming a familiar scenario: Some artists schedule a performance in Israel only to cancel it after facing pressure from activists. So what gives?

Singer cancels appearance at Israeli music fest; Lorde, Radiohead have also taken heat for Israeli gigs

Lana Del Rey, shown Jan. 28, cancelled her appearance at an Israeli music festival scheduled for this week. (Evan Agostini/Invision/The Associated Press)

Lana Del Rey is the latest musician to pull out of a performance in Israel, likely after facing pressure from activists. 

In a message posted late Friday on Twitter, the Young and Beautiful singer said she was postponing her appearance at the Meteor music festival which is less than a week away. She wrote that she intended to perform at a later date in both Israel and the Palestinian territories to "treat all my fans equally."

It's the second time in the last five years that Del Rey has nixed plans to perform in Israel — she was supposed to play live in Tel Aviv in 2014, but joined a host of entertainers who cancelled shows because of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

"It's always problematic at any time when an actor or a musician gets involved in politics, because you're going to offend somebody," said James Gelvin, a history professor at UCLA with a specialty in the modern Middle East. "Either way, they're offending somebody."

"There is an ethical choice that musicians have to make," he said.

Pushing for a boycott

Much of the international pressure is attributed to the Palestinian-initiated group Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or BDS, which has members around the world calling for full equality of Arab-Palestinians in Israel, a right of return to homes and properties for Palestinian refugees and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned Israeli settlements on formerly Palestinian land as violations of international law.

It's absolutely necessary for musicians and everybody else to make their voices heard.- James Gelvin, UCLA modern Middle East history professor

One of BDS's approaches, which the organization says is inspired by South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, is to urge artists, businesses and academia through social media, letters and protests to cut ties with Israel as a form of cultural boycott.

Critics, however, say the movement aims to isolate and de-legitimize the state of Israel, standing in the way of reaching a peaceful, two-state solution.

 It is something that ultimately, paradoxically ... is bad for peace.- Aurel Braun, U of T international law professor

Canada passed a resolution in 2016 to denounce the BDS movement but it has been a divisive issue in Canadian politics and discourse.

How artists have reacted

Recently, Grammy-winning artists Lorde and Radiohead took similar heat for announcing tour stops in Tel Aviv.

Lorde pulled out of her performance scheduled for June of this year, saying in a statement: "I have had a lot of discussions with people holding many views, and I think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show."

Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill and Elvis Costello are among major acts who have also pulled out of concerts in Israel over the years.

Lorde announced late last year she was cancelling a concert in Tel Aviv scheduled for June of this year after having 'a lot of discussions with people holding many views.' (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Aurel Braun, an international law professor at the University of Toronto, says it's "unfair" that artists "are subjected to this kind of pressure."

"Some cave in and the majority don't," said Braun. "The majority don't cave in and that includes people of great stature and influence." 

Radiohead was among the acts which chose to go ahead with a scheduled concert in July of 2017.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead fired back at critics and said the rock band would proceed with a show in Israel last year. (Greg Allen/Associated Press)

Before the event, TV and film director Ken Loach, a vocal advocate for Palestinian rights and the cultural boycott, said members of the British rock band "need to decide if they stand with the oppressed or with the oppressor." 

Radiohead's frontman Thom Yorke argued "playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government."

"We don't endorse [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu any more than [Donald] Trump, but we still play in America," Yorke posted on Twitter a week before the concert. "Music, art and academia is about crossing borders, not building them."

In the past, artists such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney and more recently, Elton John, have also gone ahead with their shows.

Elton John, seen here at a Tel Aviv concert in 2016, is among the big acts who have performed in Israel despite political pressure. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images)

While those who choose to perform don't appear to face serious reprisal afterwards, it's difficult to gauge the repercussions for musicians who cancel. Gelvin says those who want to "show solidarity" are "undoubtedly going to take a hit."

After Lorde made her decision to cancel, a popular American rabbi crowdfunded to take out a full-page ad in the Washington Post, calling the 21-year-old singer a "bigot."

As a result, more than 100 well-known artists — including actor Mark Ruffalo, musician Peter Gabriel, and Canadian Life of Pi author Yann Martel — pledged their support for Lorde's "right to take a stand."

From left to right: Actor Mark Ruffalo, musician Peter Gabriel and Life of Pi author Yann Martel were among the high-profile artists who supported Lorde's freedom to choose whether or not to perform in Israel. (Getty Images)

It didn't end there. In January, an Israeli legal rights group said it's suing two New Zealanders (one of Palestinian descent, the other Jewish) who wrote an open letter to Lorde urging her to cancel the Israel performance.

To perform or not to perform?

Braun says the cultural boycott is effective in that it generates publicity around the artist and the cause, but can have long-term consequences for achieving a possible two-state solution.

"It damages the prospect for peace because it encourages the most hardline elements in the Palestinian movement who reject any kind of compromise," said Braun.

Gelvin disagrees, saying the cultural boycott is one way of seeking out a compromise.

"It's absolutely necessary for musicians and everybody else to make their voices heard," said Gelvin. "They have a platform. People listen to them."

He added: "When somebody refuses very publicly to go to Israel to perform for Israelis because of what their government is doing in their name, that also has a significance."