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Eurovision and the meaning of the cultural boycott of Israel

February 1, 2019 at 12:42 pm

People take their seats as the Eurovision song contest begins [fotospielwiese/Flickr]

Drawing on religious terminology, Israel claims to be a “light unto the nations”, an example for the rest to follow. In past eras, this spin had a certain degree of success among gullible western liberals and even some leftists.

But no more, it seems, as Israel’s international standing continues to sink – and rightfully so.

This week the Guardian published a letter by a group of leading cultural figures in the UK who are calling for this year’s Eurovision to be boycotted due to it being held in Israel.

It’s the latest significant milestone in the campaign to advance the cultural boycott of Israel, as momentum grows against Eurovision 2019 being held there.

READ: 60 human rights groups back international call to boycott Eurovision in Israel

From the start of the BDS movement, since it was formally established by Palestinian civil society in 2005, the cultural boycott has been a key aspect of the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

It is precisely Israel’s self-image as a “light unto the nations” that makes the cultural boycott so resonant. It has really hit a nerve among Israeli elites and their propagandists.

I once heard the dissident Israeli historian Ilan Pappe explain why this is so. According to Pappe, art, music, pop culture and other forms of creative expression fulfil the same role in the national Israeli myth as sports did in the Afrikaner national myth during the era of South African apartheid.

While the Afrikaners saw themselves as a strong, virile nation of pioneers and frontiersmen bringing “civilisation” to the so-called “dark continent” of Africa, Jewish Israelis see themselves as a nation of plucky survivors bringing culture, enlightenment and “western values” to the “uncivilised” and “barbaric” Arab world.

In other words, to quote former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Israel is a “villa in the jungle” – note the racist implication that the Arabs are animals.

The two national myths are actually not that different, and are in many ways sides of the same coin. These two myths were and are actually upheld by both settler-colonial populations.

The Afrikaners too saw themselves as cultured, in stark contrast to their racist caricature of the “Black savage”. And Zionism too has always had a ridiculous fetish for their so-called “new Jew”, the “Sabras” of Israel who were unlike the cowardly, cringing “old Jew” of the hated diaspora – note the internalised anti-Semitism of Zionism.

READ: UK band boycotts Eurovision to be held in Israel

(It is notable in this regard that the first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, held vehemently racist and anti-Semitic views against the Jews from Arab lands, once describing Morocco Jews as “savage”.)

So this is yet another respect in which South African apartheid and Israeli apartheid are very similar. But it is also true, as Pappe pointed out, that the sports boycott, which so successfully targeted apartheid South Africa, once held an iconic place in the boycott South Africa movement analogous to that which the cultural boycott movement now holds in the case of Israel.

No other aspect of BDS has so annoyed Israel and its international propagandists – and it does so in a way that often exposes their own deep-seated racism.

The latest example of this happened last week.

The Tuts (a three-piece band organised on punk’s original DIY ethic) announced on Twitter that they had been asked to enter the competition to become the UK’s representative to Eurovision 2019.

They cited the fact that the song contest is being held in Israel as the reason they refused:

David Collier and Simon Cobbs, two of Israel’s British propagandists, just couldn’t help themselves, and attempted to harass and mock the band on Twitter with openly racist incitement:

The two later defended themselves, claiming it was “absolutely nothing to do with colour,” and that they had been merely “mocking the speech of the youth.”

Nonetheless, it seems highly unlikely that the two would have responded with the same cod-Patois racist’s idea of how Black and brown women supposedly speak had all three members of the band been white.

The band themselves seemed to agree, hitting “like” on my tweet above. They also retweeted a tweet calling out the blatant Islamophobia of the hard-right anti-Palestinian blog called “Israellycool”:

Meanwhile this week, the letter to the Guardian I mentioned above got a relatively decent amount of press coverage – considering some of the signatories, it was harder than usual to ignore.

Celebrities supporting the call to boycott Eurovision 2019 included: Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, actors Miriam Margolyes and Maxine Peake and film directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

Signing on too were Wolf Alice, the band who won last year’s Mercury Music Prize.

Also this past week, a coalition of more than 60 LGBTQ groups endorsed the call to boycott the Tel Aviv event – a hugely significant event considering that LGBTQ communities are considered a key demographic for the Eurovision audience.

The momentum against Israel’s Eurovision propaganda keeps growing and growing.

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]

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