LGBTQ groups call for Eurovision boycott

Netta Barzilai has been acting as an ambassador for Israel. (Wouter van Vliet/Wikimedia Commons)

Campaigners for gay, lesbian and transgender rights have urged a boycott of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

More than 60 LGBTQ groups from around the world have joined a new call to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians.

In a statement, the groups accuse Israel of “shamelessly using the Eurovision competition” to distract from war crimes.

The organization alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society contends that Israel is engaged in pinkwashing – the cynical use of LGBTQ rights by states and corporations to downplay their negative activities.

Haneen Maikey, director of alQaws, said that “Israel is using Eurovision as pop culture diplomacy” and is seeking to “exploit” the competition’s LGBTQ fans.

Maikey alleged that Israel was “feigning support for gay rights while it incarcerates millions of indigenous Palestinians in bantustans.”

The statement supported by LGBTQ groups argues that “resonances” can be found between the police and military violence encountered by Palestinians and that inflicted on gay and lesbian activists. A 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York and the riots which ensued are widely viewed as key events in the history of the LGBTQ liberation movement.

Progressive?

Despite projecting a progressive image, Israel has denied equal rights between heterosexual and same-sex couples. Israel is also known to have placed LGBTQ Palestinians under surveillance and attempted to blackmail them into informing on fellow Palestinians.

Israel’s Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision in Lisbon with the supposed female empowerment pop song “Toy.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a direct phone call to the winner that evening, during which he told Barzilai that she was “the best ambassador” for the country.

The following morning, Netanyahu described the win as a “gift.”

Two days after her win, Barzilai gave a performance in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

Hours earlier, Israeli soldiers carried out a massacre during the Great March of Return in Gaza. It was the deadliest day since Israel’s 50-day assault on Gaza in 2014.

Barzilai was part of the Israeli navy in 2014 and reportedly performed a song for colleagues who took part in the attack on Gaza.

Since then, she has appeared at numerous Israeli-sponsored events, including Tel Aviv Pride.

“Fictional tolerance”

LGBTQ campaigners are seeking a boycott of the 2019 Tel Aviv Pride, as well as the Eurovision.

“Tel Aviv Pride is not like other pride marches,” Maikey said. “It is an exercise in pinkwashing, closely linked to the Israeli government and part of its official, well-oiled Brand Israel propaganda strategy to turn gay travelers into a cast of extras in its staged fictional show of tolerance.”

Barzilai gave an interview to the Associated Press last summer, in which she said “Israel is amazing” but “we have such bad PR in the world.”

In an attempt to shore up support for Eurovision, Barzilai undertook a tour in November. She was met with protests and low turnouts.

Her first stop was Vienna, where she played to an audience of only 100, while a scheduled show in Zurich was canceled due to a reported lack of interest.

Similarly, only a small number came to see her in Berlin, where she appeared at a venue which can accommodate an audience of 500.

A particularly large protest was held in London, when Barzilai played the gay club Heaven.

Human rights supporters have stepped up their activity as Eurovision – to take place in May – draws near. Last month, demonstrators in Paris stormed the stage at an event to draw up a shortlist for who should represent France at Eurovision.

Barzilai was being introduced to the audience when the protest was undertaken.

The campaign to boycott this year’s Eurovision has attracted much support in Ireland – which has won the contest a record seven times.

The Dublin broadcasting branch of the National Union of Journalists has recently discussed Eurovision. It has offered support for journalists with a conscientious objection to covering the contest.

The branch’s decision follows a commitment given by management at RTE, the Irish broadcaster, that no member of staff will be punished for refusing to travel to Tel Aviv.

And this week 50 British artists called on the BBC not to broadcast the 2019 Eurovision.

A letter published in The Guardian states that “Eurovision may be light entertainment but it is not exempt from human rights considerations – and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.”

Among those who signed the letter were the musicians Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters, the director Ken Loach and the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

“The spontaneous, vibrant outpouring of support for the Palestinian call to boycott Eurovision in Israel gives us hope,” said Haneen Maikey from alQaws. “Israel’s ‘brand’ is tarnished and its true face as an apartheid and colonial regime is increasingly being revealed to the world.”

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Tolerance in Israel? Manipulated illusion...I hope this campaign against the exploitation of Eurovision works...in any event, it is bound to put Israel more under the microscope for European viewers. Maybe it will help to wake some people up.

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Riri Hylton

Riri Hylton is a freelance journalist/editor working in both print and broadcast journalism. They are based between London and Berlin.