Palestinians have called on members of the European Broadcasting Union to boycott the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest if it is hosted by Israel, regardless of where it is held.
Israel is expected to host the Eurovision Song Contest next May, following its win in the 2018 contest. Israel is shamelessly using Eurovision as part of its official Brand Israel strategy, which presents “Israel’s prettier face” to whitewash and distract attention from its war crimes against Palestinians.
On 14 May 2018, days after Israel’s win in the Eurovision Song Contest, the Israeli army killed sixty-two unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, including six children, and injured hundreds more. The same evening the winning singer performed a celebratory concert in Tel Aviv, hosted by the mayor, where she said, “We have a reason to be happy.” The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called her “the best ambassador of Israel,” underlining his far-right government’s art-washing agenda.
By October of the same year almost a hundred Palestinians, including children, had been killed and thousands more injured, many by live ammunition. These protests were a part of the Great March of Return, that demanded that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to the land that was stolen from them.
There is widespread support by Irish people for the people of Palestine. There have been gestures of solidarity by many city and county councils, which chose to fly the Palestinian flag on the fiftieth anniversary of occupation. The trade union movement has called for a boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements, and each year on New Year’s Eve a vigil is held in towns and cities to commemorate the anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza.
It is not hard to see the similarities with our own anti-colonial struggle; but more can and must be done.
This year we have a rare opportunity to push our display of solidarity into the international arena with a call to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv. This campaign already has widespread support. The Musicians’ Union of Ireland has passed a motion in support of the cultural boycott of Israel, and Irish Equity, the actors’ union, endorses the call for a boycott. Artists from other European countries and beyond support the appeal from Palestinian artists to boycott the event. Many have signed an open letter, including some previous performers in the contest and commentators.
The European Broadcasting Union made it clear at a forum hosted by RTE in 2018 that it was not in favour of a boycott, insisting that the song contest is a “cultural event” that should not be politicised. This statement was made only a year after Ukraine, with no ramifications, banned Russia from competing. The Eurovision Song Contest is not devoid of politics: the EBU simply wants to control which political stances get air time.
Israel has used pink-washing, feminist politics, the spectre of anti-Semitism and the tired declaration of being “the only democracy in the Middle East” to try to paper over its crimes against humanity.
Israel is an illegal occupation and is constantly building settlements in different parts of Palestine, with few or no consequences. It routinely uses detention to silence dissenting journalists. Palestinian children are arrested and imprisoned; there is widespread use of torture as well as overt discrimination on the grounds of religion and culture, and a denial of basic rights to millions of Palestinians.
The occupation affects every aspect of life for Palestinians: it dictates where they can live, where they can work or study, and controls their ability to travel and even who they can marry.
Conditions in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an almost complete air, sea and land blockade and bombardment since 2007, are even worse. Buildings that are reduced to rubble cannot be replaced, as building equipment and materials have restricted entry, as have many foodstuffs, medical equipment, medicines, and other everyday necessities, such as shoes. Exports have practically ceased, and the amount of goods allowed into Gaza is a quarter of the pre-blockade flow.
This has resulted in alarming rates of childhood stunting, caused by inadequate nutrition, and of preventable deaths, as well as limited fuel and cooking gas, less than four hours of electricity a day, more than 96 per cent of the water undrinkable, and an unemployment rate of 42 per cent. Israeli forces have admitted using a punitive blockade in order to weaken opposition.
How can an event like the Eurovision Song Contest, despite its slogan of “Dare to Dream,” not be deemed complicit with the subjugation of Palestine by allowing Israel to play host?
This year will be the fifty-second year of the occupation of Palestine, and is unlikely to be the last. Let us do more than just dare to dream of a free Palestine but work towards it and support it in whatever way we can.
■ See the open letter “Palestinian artists and broadcast journalists: Boycott Eurovision 2019!” at https://tinyurl.com/ya8l3ovx.