Eurovision protesters were wrong

It is certainly uncomfortable having constantly to deal with criticism from around the world, especially when it casts a shadow on our greatest achievements.

Iceland's Hatari unveils "Palestine" banners on camera whilst receiving their score, Eurovision 2019 (photo credit: SCREENSHOT/KAN)
Iceland's Hatari unveils "Palestine" banners on camera whilst receiving their score, Eurovision 2019
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT/KAN)
As a lifelong Eurovision enthusiast, I was proud to have had a small part in the fantastic produc-tion that was this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv. It was a marvelous spectacle, and I saw for myself how much work went into getting every detail right. Hosting the Eurovision is no small feat and always comes at a huge financial cost, but when done well, can be the type of marketing accomplishment that would otherwise be beyond any tourism ministry’s wildest dreams.
Alongside calls from across Europe to boycott the event, as well as alternative “Globalvision” events being held on the night of the grand final, there were two minor acts of protest at the show itself that managed to grab the headlines and tainted the record of what would other-wise have been a near-perfect production. In the closing sequence of Madonna’s guest ap-pearance, two dancers who had Israeli and Palestinian flags attached to the back of their cos-tumes showed the flags to the cameras and the audience as they stood in a half-embrace, presumably symbolizing the need for the two sides of the conflict to come together.
The second, more obvious provocation came at the very end of the show, during the point-distribution phase, when the Icelandic delegation held up Palestinian flag banners as their points were awarded and at the very moment the cameras were trained on them.
Both incidents were against the rules, and both should result in consequences. Madonna’s pre-approved act did not include the flags. Although the precise details of her contract were not made public, a statement released by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) clarified that she had been made aware of the executive body’s stance on politicization of the event. Iceland, as a regular participant in the contest, should be held to account for breaking the EBU’s rules. It would be right to exclude them from next year’s contest to maintain the Euro-vision’s integrity as a non-political event.
However, the public outpouring of rage in the aftermath of the contest over these incidents misses the point. I’m happy to let the EBU deal with the rule-breakers. But Israelis should take into account that the state’s security policy – one in which our conflict with the Palestinians is only ever “managed” but never resolved – will have consequences. The policy is a deliberate and conscious decision that was made by our elected leaders, not an unintended consequence of events. The BDS movement is part of the burden that we as a country bear for our govern-ment’s decisions.
It is certainly uncomfortable having constantly to deal with criticism from around the world, especially when it casts a shadow on our greatest achievements. We have the right to live our lives like anyone else on this planet.
TO BE CLEAR, this is not an apology for those who seek Israel’s downfall. The BDS movement is wrong to think that its actions will necessarily bring an end to the conflict; it will likely do the opposite, harming the poorest and weakest in both societies while strengthening the resolve of the hard-liners to build walls rather than bridges.
But we must not forget that we can’t have it both ways. In my experience, it is particularly dif-ficult and uncomfortable for Israelis to hear the word “occupation,” much less to accept its re-ality. But occupation is the appropriate legal term to describe the regime that governs the West Bank. If you don’t believe me, check out the work of the IDF’s Coordination of Govern-ment Activities in the Territories unit (I should know; I gave it three years of my life). In other words, the State of Israel accepts the occupation as a fact. And since that is the case, it’s un-reasonable for us to demand of the world to ignore it completely.
We have plenty of ways to justify the current situation, and many of those are legitimate. But as long as this reality is a permanent fact and not a temporary transition phase (which is what international law intended for military occupations to be, until such time as a more long-term and viable resolution can be reached), we cannot fault people for talking about it and even protesting it. Like the constant cycles of violence that we endure, protest is just another price we pay for our untenable geopolitical situation.
Again, those who broke the rules at the Eurovision should face consequences. But by reacting with outrage to this and every other display of disapproval, the hasbara (public diplomacy) movement is paying far too much attention to the trees and missing the forest. We are unlike-ly to get anywhere with that attitude, and we will be having the same arguments for many years to come if we do not learn to listen and accept the reality around us for what it is.
The atmosphere in the press center at the Expo on Saturday night was electric, and journalists from around the world were treated to a wonderful display of Israel at its very best: multicul-tural, diverse, modern and yet rooted in history and national pride. I pray that by the next time Israel hosts the Eurovision – hopefully in less than 20 years – the experience will remain un-marred by protests, as political leaders on both sides will not be afraid to face the problems we have head-on, and work to solve this conflict once and for all.

The writer is studying political science and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and reports for the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation’s radio program, KAN English News.

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