RTE Boycott Israel Protest 2019

Opinion Support Palestinians and show your opposition to apartheid by boycotting Eurovision

You can show solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom against Israeli apartheid, occupation and war crimes by supporting the boycott, writes Zoe Lawlor.

The Eurovision Song Contest is due to take place in Tel Aviv next week and some campaigners have called for the event to be boycotted. 

The commissioned Voices articles from both sides of the debate so you can read an opinion piece from the other side here

WITH THE EUROVISION Song Contest taking place next week, the year-long campaign to boycott the competition in Israel is ramping up.

The year since Israel’s entry, Netta Barzilai, won – has been bookended by massacres of Palestinians.

Just days after her victory last May, Israeli forces deliberately shot dead 62 Palestinians in Gaza, and just this week 23 Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and three children, were killed by airstrikes.

Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza has continued since the start of the Great March of Return leaving hundreds dead and thousands severely wounded.

In February a UN Commission of Inquiry found that Israeli forces have likely committed war crimes by intentionally shooting unarmed people, including children, medics and journalists.

Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has been calling for a campaign of cultural, sporting, academic and economic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as long as it continues to deny them their rights and freedoms.

The global campaign is modelled on the boycott of the racist regime in apartheid South Africa.

Anyone wishing to show solidarity with the Palestinian people as they continue their struggle for freedom against Israeli apartheid, occupation and war crimes has the responsibility to support the BDS movement. This applies equally to the Eurovision.

Despite claims that the Eurovision is somehow ‘apolitical’ Israel has long used culture as a propaganda tool.

From the far-right Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Barzilai “Israel’s greatest ambassador” to the promotion of illegal settlements to the millions pumped into ensuring Madonna performs – it is abundantly clear that Israel views this as a golden opportunity to whitewash and pinkwash its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people.

(By pinkwashing I mean the way that Israel cynically uses gay rights to distract from its settler colonialism.)

Spearheaded by Palestinian artistic and LGBTQ+ groups, since the campaign began it has garnered huge support and much success.

In Ireland, more than 17,000 people signed a petition calling on RTÉ not to participate, while over 6,000 have asked Sarah McTernan not to sing for apartheid.

The Irish campaign has the support of well-known artists, human rights activists, the Musicians’ Union of Ireland (MUI), Irish Equity and many prominent LGBTQ activists.

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) wrote to Sarah McTernan requesting a meeting to discuss the boycott and she has received letters from much-loved musicians including Mary Black, Donal Lunny and Mary Coughlan, as well as correspondence from more than 100 Palestinian artists, from Israelis who support BDS, a letter from prominent LGBTQ+ activists in Ireland and from more than 30 Irish anti-apartheid activists.

Yet, despite these respectful and significant pleas to stand on the right side of history, McTernan has not responded at all. 

Last September members of the Irish campaign met with the Director General of RTÉ, Dee Forbes.

At the meeting, the broadcaster committed to refusing to sanction any employees not wishing to travel to Israel on conscientious grounds and noted that the broadcaster is “well aware that the Irish people are very concerned about and supportive of Palestinians”.

While this falls very far short of the demand that they pull out of the contest, it does represent an important recognition that Eurovision in Israel is not business as usual and presents an ethical challenge for workers concerned with human rights.

RTÉ however, continues to maintain that the event is “not political” despite the fact that state broadcaster KAN will reserve 500 rehearsal tickets for Israeli soldiers who in all likelihood the Irish act will perform for.

Compounding this deeply political act of entertaining an army routinely accused of war crimes by the UN and human rights organisations, the locations on the ‘visual postcards’ broadcast between acts will feature the occupied Golan Heights and Palestinian East Jerusalem – thereby instrumentalising the show to present illegally annexed land as part of the Israeli state.

Reflecting the broad feeling in Ireland that no Irish performers should countenance playing for mass murderers and that our national broadcaster shouldn’t allow itself to be used for the purposes of spreading state propaganda, in early March there was a large protest at RTÉ.

Internationally more than 136,000 people have signed petitions to the European Broadcasting Union and national broadcasters asking them to refuse to take part.

More than 100 queer and trans liberation organisations from nearly 20 countries have called on global LGBTQ+ communities to support the boycott which has been endorsed by such luminaries as Julie Christie, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Wolf Alice and many more.

Eurovision promotional events all over Europe and Australia (which is also participating in the contest) have attracted protests and actions are organised for Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, although Israel proclaims itself “the only democracy in the Middle East” it has said it will not allow entry to human rights activists planning to protest the competition, a ban that is in total contradiction to promises it made to the EBU.

Although Eurovision will go ahead, the boycott campaign has already been a success in further raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people and cutting across Israel’s ‘pinkwashing’ with huge support from the LGBTQ+ community.

It has not only raised the profile of the cultural boycott and seen new artists declare their support, but it has also mainstreamed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The fact that ticket sales are way down and hotels aren’t booked is a testament to this and shows that huge numbers of people recognise that segregated partying in Tel Aviv while just down the road Palestinians are living under siege and being shot down in cold blood is simply unpalatable.

Those who say that artists shouldn’t ‘take sides’ ignore the fact that by participating they have already chosen the side of the oppressor, of injustice and of apartheid.

There is still time for them to change their minds, we implore them to take a principled stand for justice and to be on the right side of history.

From the semi-finals to the final we are calling on people to boycott the contest and on 18 May we are asking Eurovision fans to turn off their TVs and go to an alternative party in solidarity with Palestine, these are happening around the country.

Palfest Ireland has an amazing night lined up in the National Stadium with Kíla, Christy Moore and more. 

Not only is there an alternative to this year’s Eurovision but there is also an alternative to apartheid – that is freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.  

Zoë Lawlor is the Cultural Liaison with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Coordinator of the Irish Campaign to Boycott the Eurovision in Israel. 

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