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Eurovision challenges Israel to face the music

People take their seats as the Eurovision song contest begins in Duesseldorf, Germany on 14 May 2011 [Noel Slevin/Flickr]
People take their seats as the Eurovision song contest begins in Duesseldorf, Germany on 14 May 2011 [Noel Slevin/Flickr]

Supporting Palestine isn’t just about heroic resistance with little more than sticks and stones in the face of one of the most technologically-advanced armies in the world. Nor is it purely about politics and lobbying governments. As the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has shown, it’s also about raising public awareness and embracing the arts, culture, diversity and unity.

Now the world’s largest live music event, the Eurovision Song Contest, is in the sights of the BDS movement, which is reviled by Tel Aviv arguably more than any other pro-Palestine initiative. It is likely that even Israel would find it difficult to justify a response to BDS using its default kneejerk of teargas, bombs and bullets, all of which have been used against unarmed protesters at the weekly Great March of Return protests every week since 30 March. Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children have been killed and wounded as a result.

It now looks as if the battle lines are being drawn over Eurovision, a musical event which attracts nearly 200 million TV viewers every year. Israel is due to host the contest in 2019 but there is a huge stumbling block; the Zionist elephant in the living room, if you like.

You see, the oft-mocked and ridiculed Eurovision — it’s equally adored and enjoyed around the world, it must be said — is not just about the music. It has evolved into an international celebration of cultural diversity and global unity, which have no place in apartheid Israel.

READ: Dozens of public figures call on Ireland to boycott Eurovision 2019 in Israel

“Eurovision’s core values are inclusion, diversity and unity, and Israel’s horrific treatment of Palestinians is the polar opposite,” explained Granate Kim, the Communications Director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) this week. “Having the hosting rights would be a huge PR coup for Israel to whitewash its horrific war crimes and rampant racist law making. But already it has run into problems. The Israelis wanted to hold the event in Jerusalem, but had to back down from shamelessly trying to assert their illegal claim over the city.”

Indeed, scores of prominent artists have joined a Palestinian call for Israel to be dropped as the 2019 Eurovision host, within days of the contest organisers gathering at their annual Assembly where they could act to make such a change.

Working alongside the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a petition — “Eurovision: Artwashing Apartheid” — has already attracted more than 25,000 signatures. Drawing parallels with Apartheid South Africa the petition makes a global appeal for support by calling on “members of the European Broadcasting Union — our public broadcasters — to withdraw from the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Israel, in order to avoid being complicit in Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.”

Global artists call for a boycott on Eurovision in solidarity with Palestinians - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Global artists call for a boycott on Eurovision in solidarity with Palestinians – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Signatories to the petition are asked to confirm that: “We support the many prominent artists, including former contestants, who have endorsed the appeal of Palestinian artists and journalists to turn their backs on Eurovision 2019. We urge songwriters and performers to boycott the 2019 contest hosted by Israel just as they once boycotted the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Some European countries, it has emerged, have already threatened to boycott the event entirely unless a new host is found. “In Iceland,” Jewish Voice for Peace pointed out, “nearly 8 per cent of the entire population have joined the campaign call for Eurovision to be hosted elsewhere.”

READ: Israel loans public broadcaster $18m for Eurovision

International superstars including Shakira, Lorde and Lana Del Rey have all cancelled gigs in Israel this year. “Now the focus is on stopping Israel from hosting Eurovision,” said Kim. “The show faces an unprecedented boycott as Palestinian partners lobby key countries.”

Earlier this year, Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters, award-winning film director Ken Loach and novelist Yann Martel joined 140 artists in signing a letter calling for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest. “Until Palestinians can enjoy freedom, justice and equal rights, there should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights,” they insisted. Notably, six Israeli artists also signed the open letter: Aviad Albert, Michal Sapir, Ohal Grietzer, Yonatan Shapira, Danielle Ravitzki and David Opp.

Using the hashtag #Daretodream, Eurovision has taken to Twitter to announce that 42 countries will be taking part next year, but not all of them are geographically in Europe. Critics have often asked how and why Israel has been allowed to compete in the contest.

READ: Top chefs bow out of Israel food festival under BDS pressure

It’s a question which was answered here by MEMO columnist Asa Winstanley in 2017 when he wrote about the significance of Eurovision to Israel. Pulling no punches, he explained that Israel’s public broadcaster is part of the European Broadcasting Union, so it qualified for the “rather naff pop music contest.” That, he added, was the technical answer.

“The more fundamental reason is this: Israel is a European settler colony forcibly implanted in the heart of the Arab world. As such, it is essentially a European project. Much like Australia (which also now competes in Eurovision) Israel is a colonial entity which violently displaced its indigenous population in order to found a white supremacist settlement overseas. Probably the most apt parallel is with the settler colonial regime that founded South Africa. Like Israel, white South Africa forcibly displaced the indigenous population in order to make a new settler nation.”

Although the Eurovision Song Contest is often the butt of jokes, make no mistake, a boycott on the scale proposed by BDS and its supporters would be unprecedented and would draw the world’s attention to the injustices endured by Palestinians on a daily basis. It is long overdue for Israel to face the music over its brutal military occupation of Palestine. Could there be a more apt vehicle for this than a boycott of an Israeli-hosted Eurovision Song Contest? I doubt it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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