Eurovision celebrates as Palestinians mourn expulsion

Palestinians protest Eurovision near the Israeli wall in the occupied West Bank city of Qalandiya, 30 March. 

Anne Paq ActiveStills

While Palestinians commemorated the 71st anniversary of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of their homeland in 1948, Eurovision got into high gear in Tel Aviv.

“This weekend, almost 200 million people will tune in to watch the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, but, behind the glitz and glamour, few will be thinking of Israel’s role in fuelling seven decades of misery for Palestinian refugees,” Amnesty International stated on Wednesday.

Dozens of international artists, human rights organizations, LGBTQ+ groups and Palestinian civil society have called for a boycott of this year’s Eurovision, and protests have continued to grow.

Israel, which has poured more than $30 million into the event, sees hosting Eurovision as a major propaganda opportunity to whitewash its image before a worldwide audience.

During Tuesday’s opening ceremony, local and international activists protested the contest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners.

They managed to briefly block one main entrance to the ceremony, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

Low turnout

Yet despite Israel’s strenuous efforts, turnout at this year’s Eurovision was dramatically lower than last year in Lisbon.

Israeli media insisted that low turnout has been largely due to high costs of visiting Tel Aviv, but more than 150,000 people have signed petitions across Europe to boycott the concert.

Tel Aviv’s restaurants and bars have not received the wave of tourists they expected, and business is reportedly lower than at the same time last year.

Thousands of tickets remain unsold despite the Eurovision finale coming up this Saturday.

Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster producing the event in Tel Aviv, is reportedly facing huge financial losses.

Earlier this week, Kan published a video in a last-ditch attempt to lure more tourists.

The video contains anti-Semitic and sexist language – for example “most of us are Jews but only some of us are greedy” – and calling on tourists to “enjoy our lovely bitches.”

A Kan presenter appears in the video wearing an “I love the Iron Dome” T-shirt, referring to the US-funded missile system which Israel claims can intercept rockets from Gaza.

This blatant political and military messaging violates Eurovision rules.

In further politicization, Kan offered free admission to Israelis who live within 25 miles from the Gaza Strip as a “sign of support and appreciation” after the flare-up between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions earlier this month.

Israel killed more than 25 Palestinians in Gaza during the attack and destroyed dozens of commercial and residential buildings.

Four people were killed in Israel as Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza responded to Israeli airstrikes with rockets.

A ceasefire brought an end to the escalation before Eurovision, but many fear an Israeli attack after the contest finishes.

Indeed, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy Michael Oren called for a major assault on Gaza after Eurovision:

Celebrating ethnic cleansing

Right-wing ultranationalist anti-Palestinian group Im Tirtzu held a party on the Tel Aviv University campus to celebrate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on Wednesday.

The group proclaimed its intention to “celebrate the victory over those who started the war, tried to destroy us, lost, and since then have tried repeatedly to destroy the state of Israel.”

It added that Palestinians’ “day of mourning is our independence day, our freedom, our security and our future.”

The group held a campus rally opposing commemoration of the Nakba – during which some 800,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Zionist militias before, during and after the establishment of Israel.

Im Tirtzu members were not the only ones celebrating on Nakba Day.

European diplomats held a dance party Wednesday on the site of al-Manshiyya, a once thriving neighborhood of Jaffa that was attacked and conquered by the Irgun, a Zionist militia led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in April 1948.

The party was attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

French hip hop artist Onra and Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi announced their withdrawal from the lineup earlier this week.

Alternative concerts

Palestinians in Gaza held an alternative to Eurovision earlier this week atop the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli missiles earlier this month.

Along with music, the Gaza Message concert featured a speech by the mother of Razan al-Najjar, a medic who was shot and killed during the Great March of Return demonstrations last June.

Writer Ahmed Masoud commented that the alternative party was a mere 50 miles from Eurovision in Tel Aviv that Palestinians in Gaza are barred from attending.

“Many across Europe have come hundreds of miles to Israel for the festivities but, even though I live less than an hour’s drive away in the Gaza Strip, I’m not allowed to make the trip,” Abier Almasri, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Gaza, wrote.

“I wish those attending Eurovision could visit me in Gaza and experience our reality, such as rolling power cuts that last most of the day, and the psychological torment of feeling trapped and unable to travel through no wrongdoing of your own.”

More alternative concerts will be held in Bethlehem, London, Haifa and Dublin under the name Globalvision.

Madonna crosses picket line

Despite vigorous campaigning against Madonna’s planned performance at the Eurovision finale on Saturday, the pop star arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday crossing the international picket line set by Palestinian civil society.

Defending her performance, Madonna said she would “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.”

“My heart breaks every time I hear about the innocent lives that are lost in this region,” Madonna added. “I hope and pray that we will soon break free from this terrible cycle of destruction and create a new path towards peace.”

However, Madonna is unwilling to do what Palestinians think it will take to break that cycle and bring peace: refuse to reward and whitewash Israel.

This was Madonna’s first response to the #MadonnaDontGo campaign activists launched on social media months ago.

“Would you have played in Sun City at the height of apartheid in South Africa, crossing the boycott picket line set by the majority Black population?” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, asked the pop star.

“At a time when fewer and fewer major artists are performing in apartheid Tel Aviv, Eurovision is exactly what Israel’s far-right government needs to distract from its crimes.”

London Palestine Action released several songs this week urging Madonna to ditch the concert.

One was a parody of Madonna’s track “Papa Don’t Preach,” titled “Madonna Don’t Go”:

Another was a spoof of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”:

The pop star’s performance of two songs is set to cost $1 million, to be paid for by Canadian-Israeli real estate tycoon and “self-appointed ambassador-at-large for Israel” Sylvan Adams.

The Eurovision online broadcast was briefly hacked earlier this week and replaced by photoshopped images of explosions in Tel Aviv.

It is unclear who hacked the website, but the Israeli broadcaster blamed Hamas.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.