From top: Netta Barzilai after winning the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest securing Israel the right to host this year’s competition; Ireland’s entrant Sarah McTernan; Bryan Wall
It’s hard to imagine that the Eurovision song contest would become a political issue. Of course, there is the phrase of George Orwell’s that “All issues are political issues”. But the Eurovision contest?
How seriously it is usually taken varies from country to country. Ireland’s record on it is mixed. All in all though, we usually treat it as something anodyne; a harmless distraction that comes around for one night, once a year. This time it’s different. This year the contest is being held in Israel.
For Israel, the Eurovision is an opportunity to whitewash itself as it is so often found of doing. It can present itself to the world as a liberal, western nation that likes the same things we do.
Given the reality of the situation, hosting Eurovision is a propaganda coup of exceptional proportions. And as a result, there have been calls to boycott the competition.
Charlie McGettigan, a former Irish winner of the competition, has also added their name to the list of those opposed it being held in Israel. As has Mike Murphy. RTÉ and others have decided any controversy about this can be ignored.
The result is the claim that calls for a boycott are unfair to both viewers and Ireland’s representative this year. We are given to believe that it is simply a bunch of ne’er-do-wells being difficult.
So what’s the problem?
Israel is a state unlike many others. Its status is exceptional. Its boundaries are variable depending on military necessity. It is not a state of its citizens, making it an extreme outlier compared to the rest of the world. Instead, it is the state of the Jewish people, a not so subtle or unimportant distinction.
The religious right hold a substantial amount of power both politically and socially. But probably most importantly, the state is highly militarised. And this reaches right down through all the layers of Israeli society. It is a military society par excellence.
Netta Barzilai, Israel’s entry for Eurovision last year and who won the competition is herself a military veteran. As are the majority of Israelis. This is because military service is mandatory.
But not only are the Israelis that Sarah McTernan is expected to perform for either currently in the military or former members, the majority of them believe in an Israeli-Jewish ascendency.
Most Israelis believe “crucial decisions on security matters should only be made by a Jewish majority vote”. A majority also believe “a Jewish majority vote is essential for decisions pertaining to economy or society”.
At the same time, and unsurprisingly, the Israeli military is the most trusted institution in Israeli society. It is a modern Sparta.
This is hardly surprising given the militarisation of the state. And all of this is without taking into account the treatment of the Palestinians.
This is why Eurovision will be such a propaganda victory for Israel if the competition goes ahead. And it is also why calls for McTernan to pull out of the competition should be taken seriously.
She, along with all of the other performers, will be used to present a veneer of respectability over gross human rights violations and a state whose politics skew heavily to the right.
It’s an old tactic used by the state’s supporters. They encourage people without a deep understanding to look at how liberal and progressive Israel is compared to other countries.
It means ignoring the razing of Palestinians lands and homes, not to mention the history of their ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Israel’s founders less than 100 years ago. It means ignoring the apartheid system there.
A system that ensures that citizenship and equal rights are premised on the idea that one is not a Palestinian. And this is just the Palestinians who live within the internationally recognised borders of Israel. This doesn’t include the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israeli state and society is therefore not something that should be cast aside in the name of artistic freedom or neutrality. To claim be neutral in a situation such as this is to be complicit. Justice demands, at a bare minimum, our solidarity with victims of injustice.
The Palestinian cause is deserving of our solidarity. Right now this means calling for a boycott of the Eurovision contest on these grounds.
Many Irish artists have already pledged to boycott Israel so the request of McTernan is nothing unique. Nor is it bullying, despite what others like to claim. It should be seen as part of a wider movement by which to pressure Israel into accepting the idea that Palestinians are entitled to basic fundamental rights.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement does just this. Israel will continue to flout the rights of Palestinians so long as their Occupation and persecution is cost-free. A boycott costs the Israelis, both economically and socially. And it is working.
How else can you explain the sheer effort that the Israeli government has put in to countering the boycott? It does everything from smearing advocates of BDS to employing legions of people to promote the Israeli viewpoint online.
This Hasbara as it is known is the biggest indication that BDS terrifies the Israeli government. On top of this is also the evidence that the Israeli government has lobbied the Irish government to block the Occupied Territories Bill.
A letter, obtained via a freedom of information request, was sent from the Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Isaac Herzog, to Simon Coveney, the minister for foreign affairs. Herzog called the bill, which if enacted would outlaw trade with Israeli settlements, anti-Semitic.
He also went so far as to say there are some “who would interpret it as an official encouragement to more hostility, and indeed more hostilities” in the region.What’s more, he said that he was “offering my help to try and prevent it” from becoming law. In closing, he told Coveney “We need to join efforts to block this Bill”.
Although the bill is unlikely to become law it already represents a victory of sorts. It shows Palestinians that people do care about them and their future, as well as their past. And it shows the Israeli government that brutality and occupation comes with a price.
For these reasons the Eurovision this year is anything but normal. It is a chance to damage the Israeli propaganda machine that tries to convince the world that the Palestinians are a free people, if they even exist at all.
We can play our part in that if we care about human dignity and rights. And so can Sarah McTernan.
Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter: @Bryan_Wall
Previously: EU May Like This
Pics: Getty/The Irish Sun