Cultural Exports and Musical Complexities in Israel

By Jake Benglesdorf

Recent Israeli-run music festivals occurring in Egypt have brought musical and other cultural boycotts to the forefront of the Middle Eastern news outlets. Festivals including the We Grounded Passover getaway were hosted in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, once under Israeli control.

An advertisement for the We Grounded festival in Egypt. Photo: Facebook

These festivals have become increasingly popular, with hundreds of Israeli attendees crossing the border for vacation. However, the events have been met with resistance, mainly from civilian actors. Egyptian Passover getaways such as the Nabia festival were scheduled to take place at the Tolip Hotel in Sinai, Egypt. However they had to switch hotels, after Egyptian resort owners felt pressured by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement’s calls to boycott the festival. The Nabia festival was successfully relocated to a nearby Egyptian hotel before the event’s start and went on nonetheless. While the Passover retreats occurred successfully, outrage has been stirred by local Egyptian citizens.

Egyptian citizens’ outrage stems from the proximity to Sinai Liberation Day, an Egyptian public holiday commemorating the regaining of the Sinai territory from Israel. The festivals’ occurrence felt like a reimposition of Israeli hegemony onto the Sinai. The events featured dozens of Israeli DJs, artists, and performers, catering primarily to those who could read the Hebrew advertisements, causing outrage amongst Egyptians. However, despite civilian unrest, events such as the Nabia festival were “approved by all licensing bodies in Egypt.”

The Nabia Festival is one of many controversial Israeli music festivals being held in the Sinai. Photo: Facebook

To defend against any backlash, a private security force was contracted to cross the Egyptian border and provide any needed protection to Israeli tourists. Israeli performers and ventures are often subject to boycotts spearheaded by BDS which has put immense pressure on Israeli cultural exports and imports. Artists such as Lorde, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, and more have canceled tours in an effort to culturally boycott Israel.

Singer Lorde cancelled her appearance in Israel after public pressure. Photo: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

Are boycotts of these festivals and by these artists effective? Thom Yorke of Radiohead famously thinks otherwise, defending the right to play in Israel and discussing the ineffectiveness of cultural boycotts. After continuously playing in Israel for 20 years, Yorke says “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.” Additionally, big name artists such as Justin Bieber, 50 cent, the Pixies, Maroon 5, and many others are coming to Israel this year, showing some weaknesses of the boycott. Australian singer Nick Cave, playing this year in Israel, says “boycott is partly the reason I am playing Israel — to stand against those who shame and silence musicians.”

Concerts, festivals, and artists attract large crowds and media attention, but even mediums of literature come into question of Israeli cultural boycotts. Sally Rooney’s third novel “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” was denied translation into Hebrew by Rooney to her previous Israeli publishing house. Rooney did so to make a point on her stance on Israel, depriving an entire country of the novel.

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