A liberal case for Eurovision in Israel

The campaign against Eurovision in Israel is not about the rights of the Palestinians. Rather, it serves as a bellwether in the dawn of new tactics for the BDS movement.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin aboard a 'Eurovision' bus (photo credit: NOA GUTMAN)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin aboard a 'Eurovision' bus
(photo credit: NOA GUTMAN)
Last October, an Israeli couple bought some jewelery at Paris Orly Airport. Leaving the store, the two noticed a strange and seemingly innocuous error on their receipt: it stated that their destination – Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, located in northern Lod just 12 miles away from Tel Aviv’s city center – was in fact part of the “Occupied Palestine Territories.”
Complaints were raised and the managing director of the store, Arthur Lemoine, issued an almost immediate apology. The error seemed harmless, but such historical and geographical misunderstandings seldom occur in isolation, especially as insidious calls to “free Palestine from the river to the sea” have surfaced more often. The more recent calls to boycott Eurovision 2019 for being held in Tel Aviv epitomizes the way that all of Israel’s legitimacy is being questioned today.
Unlike the uproar surrounding the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem last May, Tel Aviv is undisputed Israeli territory and sits within the 1967 lines – which are the armistice lines agreed upon in 1949 between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Founded in 1909 after Jewish families bought the land that we know today as Tel Aviv at an auction in neighboring Jaffa, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) purposefully selected it as the host city since it avoided any sovereignty disputes.
Simply put: The campaign against Eurovision in Israel is not about the rights of the Palestinians. Rather, it serves as a bellwether in the dawn of new tactics for the BDS movement. Their objective is to reduce all of Israel to an alleged military occupation – dehumanizing Israelis in the process, and making it easier to justify Palestinian terrorism. Examples of this include the sustained campaign against Israeli athletes.
Israel has always used its platform at the Eurovision to promote peace and justice. This was evident both in 1998 when Dana International advanced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights as a representative of the trans community, and in 2009, when Jewish singer Noa joined forces with Arab artist Mira Awad to sing about peace in the wake of escalating tension in Gaza, with the song “There Must Be Another Way.”
We should also remind ourselves that Israel has the honor of hosting this competition because it won, in emphatic style, with Netta Barzilai’s “Toy,” which championed female liberation.
Israel has used this opportunity to celebrate diversity and equality by setting this year’s theme as “Dare to dream.” Maybe we are foolish, but we dare to dream that peace is possible. However, this cannot happen while the discourse surrounding the conflict is hijacked by organizations that impede Palestinian and Israeli rights. Both equally deserve peace – and experience tells us that peace cannot and must not be dominated by those with an ulterior motive.
THE BDS campaign is one of hatred and demonization, which abhors peace and coexistence, and only serves to deepen divisions. Whether it be its ideology or its actions, the campaign is not the human rights warrior it purports to be.
The BDS movement has sent letters to every participating nation’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, threatening to ruin their careers in cruel acts reminiscent of the tactics deployed when the families of Argentinian footballers received death threats, all in response to their national team’s friendly match against Israel’s national team.
From the coordinated refusal of Middle Eastern nations to fly the Israeli flag or play its national anthem, to the most recent example of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad calling to ban Israeli athletes from taking part in Paralympic qualifying events, odium is being injected into any and all competitions involving Israel – depriving its citizens of their right to exhibit their humanity.
How can one claim such campaigns are about advancing the situation of the Palestinians, when these actions only seek the demonization and delegitimization of the only Jewish state?
The BDS movement is extremist. It does not believe in the right of Jews to self-determination. It certainly does not represent or benefit the Palestinian people. It only serves the most extreme in our society who wish to see the State of Israel wiped off every map.
There should be no reason to boycott a music competition taking place in the free, liberal, LGBTQ capital of the Middle East. In fact, the Eurovision song contest is celebrated for being a fantastic display of flamboyance and modernity. It is a bastion of equality and cultural infusion that should be commended by all champions of social justice.
We, for one, look forward to seeing the festival take place on the doorstep of some of the most oppressive and intolerant regimes in the world. The 2019 Eurovision will shine as a fantastic beacon of light across a neighborhood intensely characterized by darkness.
Jonathan Harounoff is a British graduate student at Columbia Journalism School, an alumnus of the universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and an incoming FASPE Fellow. Joshua Lee is a History student at the University of Nottingham, and the campaigns officer of the Nottingham Jewish Society. Daniel O’Dowd is a final-year law student at Maynooth University and a member of the US Embassy Youth Council. All three writers are 2018/19 CAMERA Fellows.