After Israel’s Netta Barzilai won the competition last year, Israel is set to host Eurovision in Tel Aviv from May 14. The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has called for a boycott of Eurovision to protest Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
Eurovision is known for having a strong LGBTIQ fanbase with several competitors identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. For its gay fans, Eurovision has always been a glitter-filled party and a symbol of diversity and tolerance. Israel’s third and previous win was in 1998 when trans woman Dana International represented the country. Concerns have been raised, however, that the Israeli government will use Eurovision to pinkwash its human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.
Pinkwashing involves the use of LGBTIQ rights to cover up human rights abuses by projecting a ‘progressive’ image. Through various PR campaigns – known collectively as the Brand Israel strategy – Israel markets itself as a ‘gay haven’ and promotes Pride events in Tel Aviv to boost tourism. Cultural events such as Eurovision are no exception. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even called Netta Barzilai a ‘cultural ambassador’ following her win.
LGBTIQ communities around the world have also protested Israel using Eurovision as a pinkwashing opportunity to cover up its human rights abuses. More than 60 queer and trans groups across nearly 20 countries – including Palestinian groups al-Qaws, Aswat and Pinkwatching Israel – have called on global LGBTIQ communities to boycott Eurovision in Israel. As Haneen Maikey and Hilary Aked wrote in the The Independent, despite Israel’s efforts to use Eurovision as cultural propaganda to show the world its ‘prettier face’, many LGBTIQ people are now saying ‘There is No Pride in Apartheid’.
Whether Israel is actually a ‘gay haven’ for Palestinians is debatable. Israel routinely blackmails gay Palestinians into becoming informants, threatening to out them to their families and their communities if they don’t co-operate, thus endangering their lives. Queer acceptance in Israel is also wrapped up in nationalism – what Jasbir Puar terms ‘homonationalism’ – and queer Palestinians in Israel face discrimination from other queer Israelis. As Israel posits itself as ‘enlightened’ and ‘progressive’ compared to its ‘backwards’ Middle Eastern neighbours by holding Pride parades and allowing openly-gay soldiers to serve, it reinforces orientalist notions of the superiority of Israeli and Western cultures. Acceptance of queer Palestinians by Israel is conditional as long as – as Jason Ritchie puts it – they ‘mute or repudiate their Palestinianness’. It is an acceptance specifically constructed to be apolitical and avoid criticisms of the occupation. Despite Eurovision being beloved and attended by many gay fans, gay Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would require permits in order to be able to attend.
Israel’s Eurovision date coincides with the anniversary of its founding and establishment, an event known to Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ which saw over 750 000 Palestinians flee or be expelled from their homes in present-day Israel, which they are unable to return to. Since 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have been leading marches called by organisers the ‘Great March of Return’ to the Gaza-Israeli border to demand a right to return to their homes in Israel. Israel has recently faced international condemnation, including by human rights NGOs, for responding to these marches by shooting unarmed protestors in Gaza, including journalists and medics. Since the protests began, over two hundreds Palestinians have been killed and over eighteen thousand injured.
In the West Bank, Israel continues its illegal settlement project, with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu saying he plans to annex West Bank settlements. This would involve huge land grabs and lessen the chances of the establishment of a Palestinian state. Palestinians in the West Bank face Apartheid-like conditions with Jewish-only roads, Jewish-only settlements, and rights and privileges enjoyed by Israeli citizens afforded to Jewish settlers while Palestinians remain without rights. Vulnerable Palestinian communities like the village of Khan Al Ahmar are at risk of demolition by Israel and its residents face forcible displacement. The Israeli army also continues to kill and injure unarmed Palestinians with impunity, as in the case of paramedic Sajed Muzhe, shot and killed after the Israeli army raided a refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Music has a history of being used as a form of protest. The cultural boycott of Israel takes after the South Africa Sun City boycott, led by Steven Van Zandt. Many artists such as Lorde, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno and Elvis Costello have refused to perform in Israel due to its appalling human rights record, while Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters has called on Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke to pull out of this year’s Eurovision.
Other celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Sharon Osbourne, signed a letter against the boycott this week, claiming that it is an attack on Eurovision’s ‘spirit of togetherness’ and an ‘affront to Palestinians and Israelis working to advance peace.’ The letter has been released by Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), a not-for-profit organisation which was exposed last year as a front to be for the right-wing pro-Israel advocacy organisation StandWithUs. It is evident that organisations like CCFP use the idea of ‘peace’ to block any criticisms or action against Israel, reinforcing the status quo of Israel’s domination over Palestinian lives and land.
BDS Australia have called on SBS and Kate Miller-Heidke to boycott Eurovision. Their petition has garnered over 2 500 signatures so far.
Eurovision should be about coming together to celebrate diversity and inclusion. Building solidarity between LGBTIQ people and Palestinians to achieve equality and justice for people everywhere must be a priority, and embracing this boycott is just the start.