Don’t praise Iceland’s Hatari for violating Eurovision boycott

Members of Iceland bang Hatari hold Palestine flag scarves

Waving a Palestinian flag does not make up for crossing a picket line.

Iceland’s Hatari gained much attention for their stunt during the Eurovision Song Contest final on Saturday night when they briefly held up Palestine flag scarves in front of the television cameras.

They won ecstatic praise on social media, but this should not obscure the reality: that Hatari crossed the picket line called for by Palestinian civil society.

In fact, what they did was an act of anti-solidarity that ultimately harms Palestinian efforts to end Israel’s increasingly violent and brazen regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

The point is not difficult: if a trade union calls a strike and some workers decide to cross the picket line, but to flash union badges at the strikers as an “act of solidarity,” everyone would understand that the strike-breakers are still scabs.

Their use of union symbols to cover their betrayal would rightly be seen as rubbing salt into the wound and earn the scorn of striking workers.

The point of a collective action like a strike or a boycott is to raise the cost to the oppressor of violating the rights of the oppressed, so that the oppressor is forced to stop their oppression.

Scabbing undermines the principle and effectiveness of collective action – whether it is a strike by workers against an abusive employer, or a boycott called by a people fighting for their very existence.

Giving a pass to scabs sends a message to others that it is okay to cross the picket line, that scabs can have their cake and eat it by accepting the benefits of collusion with the abuser and yet still be praised while they harm the collective.

Moreover, when the BDS movement – for boycott, divestment and sanctions – is under unprecedented attack by Israel and its European and American allies who smear it as anti-Semitic, it is more important than ever to defend this form of solidarity.

That BDS is a nonviolent, universalist and anti-racist movement has not stopped some western politicans from slandering it.

Asked to boycott

Yet it appears that a brief visual of a Palestinian flag generates such strong emotions in some people that the ability to think clearly about these acts and their consequences evaporates.

So let’s be clear about what happened.

In April, PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, asked Hatari not to go.

“Palestinians are calling on all Eurovision contestants to withdraw from the contest in apartheid Tel Aviv,” PACBI stated.

“This includes Iceland’s entrant Hatari, in particular, who are on the record supporting Palestinian rights.”

“Artists who insist on crossing the Palestinian boycott picket line, playing Tel Aviv in defiance of our calls, cannot offset the harm they do to our human rights struggle by ‘balancing’ their complicit act with some project with Palestinians,” PACBI added.

“Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects this fig-leafing, having learnt from the fight against apartheid in South Africa.”

In addition, there had been extensive behind-the-scenes discussions with Hatari.

The group visited the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, where band member Matthias Haraldsson described the situation as “apartheid.”

Despite this, Hatari went on to do precisely what Palestinians had asked them not to do: they crossed the picket line and tried to offset it with the fig-leafing gesture of waving flags.

PACBI’s response to Hatari’s action was in line with the position it had communicated to the band before the contest:

Misplaced praise

Yet many perhaps well-meaning people, including Palestinians such as activist Issa Amro in Hebron, reacted with appreciation:

Other reactions were perhaps more cynical: the London office of the Palestinian Authority claimed that Hatari’s “display of solidarity with Palestine showed that Israel’s conflict management policy (i.e. the Palestinians can stay under occupation and life will go on) is a total failure.”

This is ironic given how the Palestinian Authority did next to nothing to oppose Eurovision in Tel Aviv and actively collaborates with Israeli occupation forces to suppress protest and resistance, and thereby sustain the occupation, under the rubric of “security coordination.”

Mustafa Barghouti, a West Bank politician who once ran for president of the Palestinian Authority, took to the airwaves in Iceland to praise Hatari, claming that their flag-waving had “touched the hearts of all Palestinians.”

Barghouti said that although “our position in principle” is that bands should have boycotted Eurovision, he had been in touch with Hatari to thank them for what they did.

Barghouti too wants to have it both ways, claiming that the boycott is a matter of principle, but praising those who violate the principle. What kind of principle is that?

His justification was that had Hatari chosen not to cross the picket line, some other group would have represented Iceland and the Palestinian flag would then not have appeared on stage.

I heard this argument repeatedly on social media, and it amounts to nonsense even when we put aside the essential principle of not crossing a picket line called for by an oppressed group.

Aside from any momentary emotional boost, what good does a brief flash of a Palestinian flag do?

Given the depth of international complicity in Israel’s horrendous violations and habitual massacres of Palestinians, we ought to be far past the point where we should be getting excited by such symbolism.

After all, the flag of the “State of Palestine” has been flying at the United Nations for years, yet that has done absolutely nothing to turn the UN into a more effective organization at holding Israel accountable. Indeed UN complicity with Israel’s crimes has only deepened.

Missed opportunity

Had Hatari decided to pull out on Eurovision night, or even the day before, there is no way that an alternative act could have been brought in given the amount of rehearsals and logistics involved.

And even if a scab act were brought in, Hatari’s withdrawal would have dominated headlines and put pressure on others – especially Madonna – to reconsider their performances. It would have boosted the BDS movement into the stratosphere.

The Palestinian boycott call and protests around Eurovision got a huge amount of press coverage and support, and Hatari’s withdrawal would have made it an even bigger story.

Hatari could have dealt a huge blow to Israel’s effort to present Eurovision as “non-political” and fun, even as Israel and its European Union allies were shamelessly exploiting the contest to advance their pro-Israel agendas.

Instead, both Hatari and Madonna settled for ineffectual acts that did more to cover up their own complicity than advance any real consciousness or action to change Palestinian reality.

Madonna – in an unauthorized move – had two of her dancers put their arms around each other, one with a Palestinian flag, the other with an Israeli flag, on their backs.

It’s hard to imagine a more shallow or harmful message that equates oppressor and oppressed.

Beyond symbolism

Real solidarity means listening to what Palestinians are asking for – yet many prefer to lecture and instruct Palestinians rather than to listen.

In this case, solidarity would have meant boycotting Eurovision, which is really not asking for much. But it was more than Hatari could offer. So be it, but let’s not make them heroes.

More important let’s not send the message to other artists that complicity with Palestinian oppression is a minor matter quickly forgotten and forgiven. Or that it’s just fine to violate the boycott as long as you wave a Palestinian flag.

If Palestinians continue to accept empty gestures and cheap symbolism from alleged allies they will remain under Israeli oppression forever. They must demand and expect real solidarity and that’s what BDS is about.

We’re not just trying to feel good, we’re trying to actually end apartheid. During the South African struggle, not everyone respected the cultural boycott.

But those who chose to profit from apartheid are rightly remembered today with disdain.

It’s a cliché – repeated on Eurovision night by Madonna – that music “brings people together.” In the case of Eurovision, music was used as a cover for oppression and apartheid.

But that doesn’t mean she is wrong. Music, dance and celebration play an important role in any liberation struggle and in building solidarity.

A real example of that was the sold-out alternative “You’re a Vision” concert held in support of Palestine in Ireland. It was one of many such events around Europe.

That’s what solidarity sounds like.

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Comments

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Here's what I feel is missing from this discussion. It's very easy to talk about the carrots of the BDS movement; the praise, the pleas to ethics and morality and the justness of boycotting Israel until the demands of the campaign are made. The question is where is the stick? It should have been obvious that Madonna, as greedy and unethical as she is, was going to cross the picket line. The Icelandic band, Hatari, seemed like a lost cause as well. The question is what is going to happen to them now?

It's easy to admonish those who are willing to give them a pass because they gave passing mention to the Palestinians. The harder part is actually holding these artists accountable for actively crossing the picket line to play at Eurovision. Unlike individual workers who cross a strike line, it's easier to expose and ultimately work to cancel artists who cross the BDS line because they aren't anonymous and their public status makes them easier targets to go after. To ensure that this doesn't happen again in the future, artists need to know that defying the BDS campaign has actual consequences.

When Madonna's album is released later this year, the BDS movement would be wise to organize an #ExposeMadonna campaign to highlight all of the horrible, racist and unethical things she's done over the years and ultimately a follow up #CancelMadonna campaign to se her career come to an end. The same should occur for Hatari at a time when they need positive press. Doing this will send a message to other artists thinking about playing in Israel and will ultimately be more effective at holding the boycott line than just complaining about those who are giving scabs positive attention for their token displays of support.

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Hatari's whole performance was a massive "***k you" to Eurovision in Tel Aviv, their song's title "Hatred Will Prevail" held two fingers up to the whole event, the Palestinian flag waving was just icing on the cake and that it further exposed the lies the event was based on. Hatari thus acted as saboteurs to the image Eurovision and Israeli wanted to project, more than strike breakers and strikers.

Hatari's gesture may be the same as Madonna's, in that it involved a flag, but Madonna's version was just a "can't we all get along" platitude, an apolitical gesture whereas Hatari were doing it with an in your face attitude in the context of their earlier performance that demanded and provoked a response thus getting booed and minders trying to take the flags away. It wasn't just a sop to their pro-Palestinian fans, they aren't big enough to have that concern like Madonna.

Hatari were right to attend, but only because of the nature of what they were doing, that's complex, so I understand the desire just to condemn anyone who performed, but Hatari did do more to expose the event to those watching than they would by refusing to attend. If they had pulled out at the last minute it wouldn't have achieved anything because they aren't a big established act, like say Madonna.

It would be nice if the boycott movement could show some recognition of content and context, yes everyone should boycott Israel, but exceptions can made for those advancing sabotage and subversion of the Israeli narrative.

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I suppose it boils down to whether you think the call from Palestinian civil society should be respected and upheld, or whether everyone should make it up as they go along regardless of the harm Palestinians tell you it does their struggle. Solidarity means respect for what those you are in solidarity with are asking you to do. Why is that so terribly complicated?

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I agree to an extent with what you are saying. Although there's no doubt it was an act of performative alliance with Palestinians, it also garnered significant international media attention and in the interim, has put them at the forefront of viral sensationalism. That is useful for getting themsleves put on the scene so-to-speak; and very little entices people more than drama and controversy. So in that respect, I think it has utility in bringing more attention to the BDS movement as well as exploiting the potential to popularise a pro-Palestinian music band and, by virtue, the Palestinian agenda. That is, assuming this was merely a one-off opportunistic marketing strategy and not vested solution.

Having said that, their participation in Eurovision renders them complicit in the forces that maintains Israel's ongoing oppression and occupation of Palestinians and their homeland. Either way, none of the above is worthy of praise and I hope that their motives are more layered than mastering the art of artificial subversion.

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Hatari had 20000 Icelanders sign a petition for Iceland to boycott Eurovision, but Iceland, along with all the other countries in Europe and friends, where gonna send someone regardless so Hatari knowing that their petition had been in vain decided they would go and make people aware. Until now I wasn't even aware of what was happening as there was never anything in the news about it, still isn't really if you have a look. But at least there is a discussion now. I think Palestine might be kidding themselve, No one is gonna boycott Israel, it's way too powerful for that - Africa was different, so I'm glad they did what they did.

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Once again we've seen that there are people who think- or pretend- that they can uphold the cause of Palestine while explicitly rejecting the call by Palestinians to stand with them. This posture of "knowing what's best for the natives" doesn't differ in any meaningful sense from the sort of racism driving settler colonial movements throughout history. Refusing to honor the one basic strategic program left to the people you claim to support- the boycott- is, if anything, more hypocritical than outspoken advocacy for apartheid. Appropriating the banner and the name of Palestine while taking part in a propaganda exercise designed to whitewash Israels's image is not a step in the right direction. In fact, it qualifies as the original false flag operation.

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We could have wished for more but don't let out your frustration on Hatari, who, as the ONLY participant, actually DID something to bring attention to the occupation and the call for boycott.

Please try and see things from the perspective of the Eurovision bands who probably know very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like most people in Europe. Who will they listen to when deciding whether or not to boycott? Of course they are aware of the call for boycott, and they have probably received requests to boycott from PACBI and people like myself. But we are not the only ones trying to influence them. Israel is also doing a massive effort to influence their decision. I am sure they have recieved hundreds of requests to ignore the 'haters' from the 'anti-semitic' BDS movement.

Israeli lobbying efforts are well-funded and well-organized. When it comes to fighting the cultural boycott, the lobby group 'Creative Community for Peace' has been very active.
https://jewishvoiceforpeace.or...

We should thank Hatari for standing up against the immense pressure put on them by the Israel lobby, the Icelandic broadcaster, the European Broadcasting Union etc. and actually doing something that has created headlines and made people aware of the existence of BDS. Now everyone knows that playing in Israel is a controversial issue.

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I believe I addressed all the arguments in this comment in the very article it responds to. I just want to re-emphasize that Hatari were well informed, had been extensively engaged by PACBI and even went to Hebron. They were specifically asked not to cross the picket line and chose to do so in defiance of that. The facts are very clear and we should not make excuses. There’s also no evidence Hatari were specifically pressured by the Israel lobby. And if there was, and their refusal to boycott was a result of such pressure, that would make their choice even more regrettable.

Rather we should give them full credit for their conscious, informed decision to cross a picket line. It’s right to hold Hatari accountable because they themselves claimed to be allies and supporters of Palestinians. Well allies and supporters don’t cross picket lines.

It’s also important as I said to stop accepting crumbs and to stop asking Palestinians to be satisfied with crumbs. Let’s demand action commensurate with the scale of the catastrophe, not say ‘well, it’s great they waved a flag, maybe in 10 years they’ll do something more.’ How many more Palestinians will be dispossessed or dead if we satisfy ourselves with such glacial incrementalism?

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Who is BDS to appoint for themselves the role of deciding what solidarity the Palestinian people at large can and cannot accept? Furthermore it is a dangerous road when the movement wants to dictate to people if and how they show their support and solidarity for Palestine. If the message is going to boil down to "If you don't support Palestinians our way, don't show the Palestinians support at all", how many followers are you going to lose?

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How dare Palestinians, collectively organized into a broad-based campaign, decide for themselves what solidarity they are asking for to achieve their own liberation! The nerve of such people not to accept what patronizing others dictate for them! Whatever next!?

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You are speaking only for yourself. If you don't care about helping, don't make excuses blaming others for your decision.

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You are perfectly entitled to speak on behalf of yor organization about what you yourselves believe is right or wrong. It is not up to you, however, to decide for others what gestures they accept or not. PACBI away people who express solidarity with Palestine, and claiming to do so in the name of Palestinians, serves only to harm your cause and to lose you followers.

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The BDS movement is not Ali Abunimah's organization, it's quite offending that you cannot acknowledge that BDS is a broad resistance movement, with quite well defined demands and conditions. Question is really why should we (Palestinians, and BDS activists) applaud Hatari's performance with very smooth features of subversion (really, I'm not impressed by their gesture, it's not heroic, it's not helping the cause, it just egocentric and helped them to be famous)? Boycotts have proven to be efficient in many cases. Why persist and ignore a whole civil society? The media coverage of their 'protest' isn't even this big and only focuses on them not the Palestinians. So again why do you want us to be happy about it? And if in YOUR opinion PACBI aways people who express solidarity, it is maybe because WE (a majority of Palestinians and a huge amount of activists everywhere around the world) are not just a bunch of spectators and yes we expect some understanding from people who claim to stand in solidarity of the work which is being done for so many years now. Crossing picket line is really what is hurting the cause. And if it makes you feel alienated well maybe you should reconsider what is that makes you want to raise your voice for Palestinians? The fame? The good conscience that comes with fighting racism when one is a white European privileged? Solidarity is with the oppressed and comply to their demands, rest is charity and egocentrism.
To conclude, BDS is growing, its winning step by step thanks to solidarity expressed by so many through BOYCOTTING Israel. Israel is super scared of the isolation. It's a strong stance to support BDS and it doesn't leave any space for biased peace calls or energy taking debates like this one (which Hatari wanted) that are only maintaining a killing status quo.
Time has come to boycott and that's all.

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And by the way, what kind of solidarity are you expressing if you want us to thank you and praise anything you feel like being part of an expression of solidarity while it has been made clear what we expect from people outside of Palestine? What is the real nature of these opinions and thoughts you demand us to applaud?
Solidarity also means humility, and as you said, BDS doesn't need supporters who think they can impose what's good or bad for us, that is the very fundamental principle of the movement. Hate it or support it, but don't try to make us grateful for confetti turned to dust.

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since the "fig gesture" Hatari fans in large crowds have reached out to Bashar Murad who has educated us on the situation. "fig gesture" is a whole lot better than "no gesture" !

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