Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Eurovision shows that music and culture can be powerful political tools

The song competition contributes to the normalisation of the state's unlawful actions towards Palestinians

Peace activists protest before the presentation of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest participants in Tel Aviv, Israel. AP Photo
Peace activists protest before the presentation of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest participants in Tel Aviv, Israel. AP Photo

International cultural events should give us cause for joy and celebration. However, the Eurovision Song Contest 2019, which kicks off tomorrow in Tel Aviv, shows that, when placed in the hands of states, music and art can become powerful political tools. The fact that Israel is allowed to participate in Eurovision at all sends a dangerous signal, given that the competition began in the 1950s as a way to bring together European nations still reeling from the Second World War. Inclusion in a gathering with such high-minded origins serves to legitimise Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories, and glosses over its long history of human rights abuses.

In the past year alone, at least 190 Gaza border protesters have been killed by Israeli bullets. Meanwhile, illegal settlement of the West Bank – territory that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to annex during his recent election campaign – continues apace. Accordingly, the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has called for Eurovision to be snubbed. Israel’s government has made it abundantly clear that it has no interest in observing UN resolutions. Politicians and diplomats have failed to pressure Mr Netanyahu into complying with international law. In the face of this intransigence, peaceful initiatives, such as appeals for the blackballing of cultural and sporting events held in or involving Israel, have an urgent role to play. There are historical precedents for this. Similar tactics were deployed by the international community against the apartheid regime of South Africa. However, rather than stand against the injustices visited upon Palestinians, nations such as France and Germany have either criminalised or clamped down upon demands for sanctions against the Israeli state.

On Friday, Israel’s public broadcaster aired a teaser for the Eurovision Song Contest, featuring footage of Haram Al Sharif in occupied East Jerusalem, referring to the city as “our beloved capital”. With Israel now ruled by an unapologetic far-right government, bent on the erasure of the Palestinian people, it is vital that we come together, with one voice, to utterly condemn its illegal and inhumane occupation.

Updated: May 13, 2019 06:23 PM

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