By Zoë Lawlor.

Last May, Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel in Lisbon. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to congratulate the winner, calling her “Israel’s greatest ambassador”.

Just two days later, as Barzilai took to the stage at a victory concert in Tel Aviv, a few miles down the road in Gaza the Israeli military – under the command of this same prime minister – was mowing down non-violent Palestinian marchers, killing 62 and injuring thousands more.

Their ‘crime’ was protesting for their legally guaranteed right of return to their homeland. Three days after this slaughter, Barzilai was an honoured guest at Netanyahu’s residence where they ‘chicken danced’ for the world’s media.

The two things might at first seem unrelated, but in fact they are closely intertwined: the Israeli state brazenly uses culture to whitewash its war crimes and human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, who have lived under its apartheid system for decades.

It is a policy that was openly declared as far back as 2005 by the former head of the Foreign Ministry, who said Israel promotes “culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank” and does “not differentiate between propaganda and culture”. This culture/propaganda relationship highlights how crucial it is to refuse to normalise Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians with a ‘culture-washing’ event such as Eurovision.

It is for this reason that as soon as the Eurovision result was announced, Palestinian civil society called for an international campaign to boycott the competition scheduled to be held in Israel in 2019.

Support from Ireland’s artists and musicians

Responding to this call, we in Ireland were quick to establish a national campaign, initiated by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), PalFest Ireland and Trade Union Friends of Palestine (TUFP).

The campaign was officially launched in June, with the support of scores of celebrities, artists, human rights activists and public figures including former Eurovision winner Charlie McGettigan; Irish broadcaster and former Eurovision commentator Mike Murphy; and former Eurovision presenters Carrie Crowley and Doireann Ni Bhriain.

Also supporting the campaign are musical legends Christy Moore, Mary Black, Paul Brady, Mary Coughlan, Andy Irvine, Luka Bloom, Kíla, Frances Black, Donal Lunny, Honor Heffernan, Cormac Breatnach, Gráinne Holland and Steve Wall; actors Stephen Rea, Sorcha Fox and Donal O’Kelly; artists Robert Ballagh, Jim Fitzpatrick and Felim Egan; comedians Barry Murphy and Kevin Gildea; composers Raymond Deane and Trevor Knight; media personalities Ellen Cranitch and Betty Purcell; and poet Catherine Ann Cullen.

Considering the special role that Eurovision plays within Ireland’s LGBTQIA community, it is also important to note the support from veteran LGBTQIA activists and allies such as Ailbhe Smith, Senator David Norris, Max Krzyzanowski, Senator Ivana Bacik, Kieran Rose and Cathal Kerrigan, and Ireland’s first two openly gay mayors Cian O’Callaghan and Fintan Warfield.

Also quick to endorse the campaign were the Musicians’ Union of Ireland (MUI) and the actors’ and dancers’ union Irish Equity, along with Mandate General Secretary John Douglas. On 29 January this year the National Union of Journalists Dublin Broadcasting Branch committed to supporting members refusing to cover the Eurovision contest due to Israel’s “continued attacks on journalists and on freedom of expression”.

To date some 15,000 members of the public have signed a petition calling on RTÉ and potential participants to refuse to attend the contest. Last September the petition was presented to Director General of RTÉ Dee Forbes, and at that meeting RTÉ’s representatives committed to refusing to sanction any worker who does not wish travel on conscientious grounds.

RTÉ’s representatives also noted that they were “well aware that the Irish people are very concerned about and supportive of Palestinians” and that they will not merely be covering it as an entertainment event.

While this obviously falls far short of the call for a boycott of coverage of the Eurovision, it nevertheless represents an important acknowledgement by Ireland’s national broadcaster that there is broad Irish support for, and empathy with, the Palestinian struggle for freedom; that any international event held in Israel is not to be treated as ‘normal’; and that working on it presents an ethical difficulty for people of conscience.

As the competition date nears, the campaign momentum continues to grow. Last month more than 60 queer and trans liberation organisations from across Europe and beyond called on global LGBTQIA communities to take a stand for Palestinian human rights by joining the boycott.

In Britain stellar names such as Peter Gabriel, Vivienne Westwood, Roger Waters, Wolf Alice and Mike Leigh have recently called for Eurovision not to be held in Israel. As performers are announced, appeals and protests will be stepped up and the call for a boycott will become louder and stronger.  Alternative Eurovision parties in solidarity with the Palestinian people enduring their 71st year of dispossession and apartheid will be held across Europe.

In what is a huge embarrassment, and should really lead to Israel being disqualified from holding the competition this year, a plagiarism settlement has given musician Jack White a songwriting credit for Barzilai’s competition winning song ‘Toy, with the track deemed to be a rip-off of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army – yet another theft by the apartheid state.

Built on ethnically cleansed land

Last week we learned that the 2019 Eurovision Village is set to be built on the ruins of the Al-Manshiyya quarter of Jaffa, ethnically cleansed of its roughly 12,000 Palestinian inhabitants in 1948 by Zionist paramilitaries.

Following the dispossession – known in Arabic as ‘al Nakba’ (the Catastrophe) – large parts of the quarter were ultimately demolished and turned into a public park. Now, to facilitate this exercise in culture-washing, it will be turned into a site where contestants and their entourages lounge around on ethnically cleansed land, which once consisted of the homes and businesses of Palestinians families that remain refugees to this day.

We in the Irish campaign to boycott the Eurovision in apartheid Israel reiterate our call for RTÉ, all workers and performers, and all who care for human rights to seize this moment, to stand on the right side of history and to listen to the cry for solidarity from the Palestinian people.

We must refuse to take part in any pink-washing or art-washing of Israel’s decades of oppression of the Palestinian people. The slogan for this year’s Eurovision is ‘Dare To Dream’, and daring to dream of their own freedom, justice and equality, Palestinians have asked for our solidarity. We call on all people to heed their call to boycott the 2019 Eurovision – it is the very least we can do!  

Zoë Lawlor is the Cultural Liaison of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and is also a member of Gaza Action Ireland. Follow the IPSC on Twitter @ipsc48.  

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