For Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai is the apartheid state’s “greatest ambassador”. For other Israeli politicians her victory was a great way to celebrate decades of violence, theft and occupation against Palestinians.
That’s not laying it on thick—they said as much themselves. Sunday was Jerusalem Day, when Israel celebrates the anniversary of its invasion and occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Every year tens of thousands of Israelis parade through East Jerusalem’s streets, taunting the Palestinians who have lived under military occupation ever since.
Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked—a vicious racist who has called for war against the entire Palestinian people—said this year’s celebration “began with Netta Barzilai’s victory”.
Others took a slightly different tack. Israeli centre left politician Merav Michaeli thanked Barzilai not just for “bringing the Eurovision to Jerusalem” but also for her supposed “feminism”. Barzilai herself thanked people for voting to “celebrate diversity” and “challenge stereotypes”. It was a strange claim for a performance that featured dodgy stereotypes of Japanese people.
She finished by declaring, “This is my country, next year in Jerusalem”—a phrase sung at the end of Passover meals, but this time meant literally.
Next year the contest will be held in a divided city, where some 200,000 Palestinians live under military occupation, with fewer rights than Israeli citizens.
But it will showcase Jerusalem as the undivided—and purely Israeli—capital.
The timing is perfect—as every Israeli politician who celebrated her win was keen to point out. It was just two days before the US embassy moved to Jerusalem.
“Not only the embassy is coming to Jerusalem, but the Eurovision too!” enthused senior politician Yuli Edelstein. “The victory set our hearts overflowing, and brought national pride to us all.”
This is how Israel uses culture. More than a decade ago the Israeli government launched a “Brand Israel” programme.
It has poured millions of pounds into promoting musicians and artists as the liberal face of Israel, explicitly to replace stories of its occupation of Palestine. Visiting musicians are used in the same way.
When it works its success is celebrated as international acceptance of Israel’s claim to Palestinian land, and the occupation gets a progressive face.
That’s why supporters of the Palestinians advocate a “cultural boycott” of Israel. It’s a tactic that draws attention to the brutality of the occupation, denying Israel the opportunity to cover it up.
Supporters of Israel hate it—and the right to even call for a boycott is under attack. Using an example associated with the IHRA definition of antisemitism, they hope to characterise boycotting Israel as antisemitic.
The example forbids “applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.
Yet Israel is anything but a “democratic nation”. It was founded—and is sustained by—the dispossession of Palestinians. The entire occupation, backed up by racist laws that marginalise Palestinians and facilitate their dispossession, is designed to ensure that Israel keeps its ethnic majority.
As a result, Israel is a deeply racist society, as rapper Azealia Banks recently found out. She resisted calls to cancel her show in Israel’s capital Tel Aviv last week.
But after performing there she publically vowed never to return, having faced racism wherever she went.
That racism is deadly for Palestinians. Its rationale is used to justify the massacres of Palestinian protesters in Gaza (see page 3).
The protesters demand their right to return to the land they were ethnically cleansed from 70 years ago. Israeli soldiers shot them down because their return threatens Israel’s existence as an exclusively Jewish state.
That’s the ugly truth at the heart of the Israeli state which its defenders are desperate to cover up on the 70th anniversary of its foundation.