February 18, 2020

The Fyre Festival and the ‘Palestinian Cause’

Fyre Festival turned out to be one of the biggest marketing scams in history — what concertgoers called a “living nightmare.”

The Fyre Festival and the “Palestinian cause” have a lot in common.

In 2017, the Fyre Festival was promoted to the American public on social media as the ultimate destination music festival, to be held in the Bahamas and attended by the world’s top models and celebrities. It turned out to be one of the biggest marketing scams in history — what concertgoers called a “living nightmare” after they spent tens of thousands of dollars on a ticket package and then found out there was no festival. Billy McFarland, the 26-year-old founder and CEO of Fyre Media, the company promoting the festival, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and in October a federal district court judge in Manhattan sentenced him to six years in prison and ordered him to forfeit more than $26 million. Hulu and Netflix are now showing separately produced documentaries about the scam. 

The “Palestinian cause,” as promoted by far-left activists, likewise paints a much sexier portrait of the situation than the reality. Fyre Festival ticket buyers were seeking a glamorous destination where they would be part of an exclusive in-crowd, even if their daily lives bore little resemblance to the luxury-lifestyle experience offered. In the case of the anti-Israel cause, often well-meaning but naive young people are attracted by a similar longing — to be a part of a movement they don’t understand and have not looked into, but that offers to give them a sense of purpose and belonging. Unfortunately, the reality in both cases is not even remotely close to the “goods” they have been sold.

I oppose discrimination against Israelis and Palestinians, based on my morality as a progressive Israeli. It is disturbing and bizarre that some Western activists on the far left, completely disconnected from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are so fervently dedicated to tearing down my people. This almost obsessive passion and fetishization stems from the poorly conceived notion that this cause represents their values. On the one hand, they feel very bad for oppressed people, support the LGBTQ community, fight for gender equality, and advocate for racial and economic justice. On the other hand, they ignore the fact that if you actually go to the Palestinian territories, you will find the values there are not the same. The promise of a left-wing utopia in Palestine, for the time being, is just as false as the Fyre Festival’s promises.

At the international level, the European Union, the United Nations and many countries pour billions of dollars into the Palestinian leadership, all stemming from the belief in a false reality that the money will lead to a peaceful and more progressive Middle East. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian Territories receive more aid per capita than any country in the world, yet the reality for Palestinians is far from peaceful, even at the hands of their own leaders. Similarly, at the grass-roots level, if you support Palestine, if you fight against Israel, if you support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, you are promised to be a part of something greater, even if no one knows what that actually means (hint: it’s not peace). 

As a digital-marketing professional, I know full well that marketing these ideas in the age of digital media isn’t difficult. It doesn’t even matter how bad your product is in a world of digital and social media influencers, because any nobody can be a somebody with the right retweets and likes. Any post has the potential to go viral and reach millions. Any tweet could make you a celebrity. To many, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, they’re buying the feeling that the marketing gives them, and oftentimes even the marketers themselves aren’t aware of what they’re selling.

“At the grass-roots level, if you support Palestine, if you fight against Israel, if you support the [BDS] movement, you are promised to be a part of something greater, even if no one knows what that actually means.”

Fyre Festival’s marketing team had almost no idea what was going on throughout the planning of the festival. Their focus was on marketing a concept, which they did remarkably well, using influencers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid to promote the festival. The influencers, too, had no idea what was actually going on with the product they were promoting, but they were paid handsomely to do so — much like the countries who provide financing to Palestinian leaders with little to no knowledge of where their money actually ends up — or if it’s being used to pay terrorists.

Similarly, the naive supporters of the BDS movement who present Palestine as a cause that LGBTQ people should get behind, almost never know that 93 percent of Palestinians hold homophobic views (according to Pew research). The activists who say Palestine is a cause for the black community to support often do not know that the term “black person” in Palestinian Arabic literally translates to “slave.” The ones who say Palestine is a cause for feminists do not know that Hassan al-Laham, “the mufti of Gaza” who is a top spiritual adviser appointed by the Palestinian Authority, encourages domestic violence. Al-Laham stated in a TV interview that a husband is allowed to hit his wife, but “not hitting that will bring the police, and break her hand and cause bleeding, or hitting that makes the face ugly,” he said. The hitting should “be like a joke,” he added, “ … a kind of reminder that the love and friendship that Allah commanded is still found between [the couple].”

While there certainly are Palestinian voices on the ground fighting these problems, the fact remains that Palestine is a far cry from the progressive utopia that some activists believe it will become, if only they pressure Israel enough. Similarly, what the BDS movement is marketing will not bring justice to the Palestinian people.
The devastating reality for us as progressives is that those values we hold dear are not represented in Palestine today, and we cannot have genuine change unless we are willing to acknowledge that reality as our starting point.

The Fyre Festival was a concept of an experience, not an actual experience. Palestine as it’s presented in the far left is also a concept of a cause, but the reality is far from the expectations of this subgroup of activists.

Victoria’s Secret model Shanina Shaik, one of the celebrities paid to promote the Fyre Festival, said: “It is really horrific what happened. The girls and I were just kind of dragged into it. We would never want to promote something like that.”

If they only knew.

So, too, we must do our own due diligence and be honest about the reality in the Palestinian Territories.

Palestinian statehood is a worthy and just cause, and I hope it can also lead to progress within Palestinian society over time. But advocating for Palestinian rule over Israelis, as the anti-Israel movement does, means supporting a Middle East that is less free for all people who live here.

Hen Mazzig is a digital-media and strategic communications consultant and a writer from Tel Aviv.