Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, who served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), won the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon on May 12, 2018. When receiving the trophy to standing ovations, Barzilai euphorically exclaimed, “Next time in Jerusalem!” The popular singing contest has once again allowed Israel to use arts and culture for political propaganda.
In many ways, the Eurovision Song Contest epitomizes the normalization of contemporary colonization, amplifying the indifference towards Palestinian lives and serving as an international promotion of Israeli settler-colonial culture. While the contest could be disregarded as commercial TV entertainment for mass audiences, Eurovision matters because it influences common people’s perceptions of other cultures and countries, far beyond music. This year’s edition reached over 180 million viewers.
While the Eurovision Song Contest claims to be free of political speech and gestures, the contest has always been politicized. Particularly for Israel, it has provided perfect opportunities to musically whitewash crimes against Palestinians. Indeed, in 2016, the contest organizers banned the Palestinian flag from the competition in order to shield Israel from political criticism. In doing so, the contest has indicated its support for Israel’s policies.
This year, Israeli activists called on European viewers to “participate in the televoting and give Israeli Apartheid ZERO POINTS,” advocating a boycott of the Zionist entry. Activists also revealed that Barzilai served in the Israeli navy during Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza. The Zionist navy’s crimes included the killing of innocent children who were playing at the beach.
While Barzilai was performing her kitschy song, Israel fired several missiles into Gaza. This attack, like Israel’s simultaneous attacks on Syria and its violent suppression of peaceful Palestinian protesters, did not affect the contest organizers, nor the audience, who awarded Barzilai with a landslide victory. While Israelis were celebrating the Eurovision success, which coincided with the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Israeli forces continued to massacre Palestinians.
Barzilai’s success has served as publicity for Zionism. The singer has since received international media attention and praise from the Israeli regime. According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barzilai “brought much respect to the state of Israel.” She subsequently publicly engaged in a “chicken dance” (which she performed at the Eurovision) with Netanyahu.
However, there was also criticism. A satirical appropriation of Barzilai’s song, performed by Dutch comedian Martine Sandifort, went viral on social media. Sandifort put the song in the context of the Nakba, including verses like, “We are giving a party, wanna come? See you later in al-Aqsa mosque, which will soon be emptied anyway.”
Israel will organize next year’s Eurovision contest. Jerusalem will be presented as Israel’s capital to thousands of tourists, who will likely celebrate on ethnically cleansed and occupied Palestinian land. Indigenous Palestinians will not be invited.
It is thus imperative for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to target the event. Voices in Ireland and Iceland have already called for their national broadcaster to boycott the 2019 edition. Any participation in the 2019 event would offer the Zionist state another opportunity to conceal its human rights abuses through “culture.”