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How Childish Gambino explains the problem with Israel’s Eurovision win

Gambino’s new music video illustrates why audiences should focus on the injustices unfolding in the background of artistic performances – especially those representing the state.

Netta Barzilai performs in Israeli television competition 'The Next Star of Eurovision.' (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netta Barzilai performs in Israeli television competition ‘The Next Star of Eurovision.’ (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In the music video for his new single “This is America,” the singer and rapper Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) dances in a warehouse while scenes of violence and chaos unfold around him. Among other messages, the video is a reflection of how art can be used to distract people’s attention from the brutal realities faced by Black Americans and other people of color in the United States. Gun murders, police sirens, running youths, and other images fill the background as Glover smiles and performs for the camera, trying to keep the audience’s gaze on him. “We just wanna party,” he sings, before pulling out a pistol and shooting a hooded man in the head. “This is America,” he says, and continues dancing.

Glover’s video rang through my mind when I heard that Netta Barzilai had won the Eurovision contest on Saturday night. Barzilai is a talented and charismatic singer, and her performance arguably deserved the popular vote. But like many Palestinians, I could not help but feel frustrated, even hopelessness, after hearing the news of her victory.

The idea that art and culture can be separated from their political context is a naïve luxury that oppressed people cannot afford. This is especially the case with an event like Eurovision, where countries routinely manipulate their candidates’ performances to boost their public image and deliver political messages. As the world’s eyes fixated on Barzilai raising her award in triumph, it seemed like the violence that had transpired in Israel-Palestine that week, like those in Glover’s video, had gone completely unnoticed.

A day before her win, Israeli snipers opened fire on Palestinians in Gaza as they marched in protest toward the fence for the seventh week in a row. In the weeks prior, Israeli settlers in the West Bank vandalized the homes and properties of Palestinian villagers – attacks which have spiked in recent months. To the north in Syria, Israeli and Iranian forces faced off in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA – a goal long-pursued by Prime Minister Netanyahu. On Saturday, right-wing Israelis chanted racist slogans as they marched through the Old City to celebrate the 51st year of its conquest. On the eve of Nakba Day, the new U.S. embassy opened its doors for business, further erasing the corpse of the two-state solution.

Barzilai became the latest trophy in this public relations streak for the Israeli government. Her acceptance speech, in which she joyfully cried “Next year in Jerusalem!” (where the 2019 Eurovision may be held) added further cause for the city’s nationalist euphoria. Landing in Tel Aviv on Monday, Barzilai declared: “This is a great moment for me, for the [Israeli] delegation and for the country. I am happy that we managed to create a reason for joy in a country that does not have a lot of reasons to celebrate.” By the time she went on stage in Rabin Square that evening, 58 Palestinians had been killed and 2,700 injured by Israeli snipers along the Gaza fence.

Glover’s video resonated with this stark national dissonance. In the U.S., the illusions of artistic vibrancy and cultural diversity frequently conceal the racism, police brutality, mass incarceration, and other oppressive systems that preserve white privilege and discriminate against Black Americans and people of color. Despite their “freedoms” and supposed social progress, they still find that “You just a Black man in this world, you just a bar code.”

Israeli and the American flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, ahead of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. (Yontan Sindel/Flash90(

Israeli and the American flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, ahead of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. (Yontan Sindel/Flash90)

The same illusions and contradictions exist in Israel. Few Israelis (or Europeans) want to think about the occupation that privileges their society at the expense of another. Few want to confront how they can celebrate a singer who honors the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment, and at the same time, openly endorse or ignore a military regime that violates the bodies, rights, and dignity of an entire people living right at their doorstep.

Palestinians and allies who raise these social critiques are blasted as being cruel and petty. They are expected to be compliant, if not grateful, with their existence as second-class subjects to such an “enlightened” and “diverse” nation like Israel. At best, they are told to stop spoiling the party, and to tolerate their oppressor’s success and embracement by the world.

However, instead of being distracted by these shows – especially those sponsored by and representing the state – audiences ought to turn their gaze to the injustices unfolding in the background. It is true that Israelis, like any other people, “just wanna party” and have normal lives. But their freedom to do so comes at the direct cost of another people’s freedom, and their complicity in covering up that system must be challenged. If we can praise artists like Glover for highlighting these unacceptable realities in the US, we should also do so with the artists and critics who do the same with Israel.

This article has been further edited since initial publication.

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    COMMENTS

    1. blackwaves

      I am living in Israel and I can tell you all youre palestenian bulshit is a lie.
      Israel never damged or start a war with nobody.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Joe firth

      Music helps you forget about all that shit why do u have the need to ruin it with political crap? Thats just pure shit mate.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lio

      This is yet another pathetic attempt to show facts out of context in a very persuasive yet deceiving way… Simply put – Palestinians who share their leadership ideology are bringing much misery to themselves, as part of Hamas’s way of using humans as victims/shields and then provoking the media about massacres… There’s no massacre nor there is any initiated hostility of Israel towards the Palestinians… On the contrary, Israel is just reacting to Palestinian hostility and rightfully so!
      Israel wants the Palestinians free of their demonic regime and living at peace by their side. The only obstacle – Palestinian authority and regime want Israel destroyed and gone, instead of just saying:”we recognize your right to live and will stop all terrorist activities”, in order to truly arrive at an agreement… When that day comes – Israel will not need to protect itself and will live at peace with Palestinians by their side. Why don’t you talk about all the power and water and aid and money and food delivered every day by Israel to the Palestinians?? Because your article is a one sided narrow minded piece of manipulative stuff, that is just all worng!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Avishay

      This only one side of the coin, a real jurnalist was publishing 2 sides of the coin, covering the complete story unless this is an opinion article. Which was a waste of time to read. This is always been like this, every time Israel wins in something the Palestinians and thier supporters starting to connect everything to thier suffering. Guess what they have leaders too, why those leaders aren’t donig something better with those people? Why they don’t start to tunnel the Palestinians effort for something good? Have you real wonder? They don’t know something else from lunching rockets, demonstrate stabbing Israelis. While they must change this why of thinking, the current path doesn’t work,

      Reply to Comment
    5. Antares

      You can’t suppress people that you like. Therefore you first have to dislike them. Call them animals, vermin, snakes, killers, terrorists or infiltrators and your bullets will make you happy.

      @Ido David
      “and attempted to massacre its people”
      I don’t expect you to have a source for that. Sorry. And please don’t expect others to believe in a two-sate solution. Palestinians can’t live on 22% of their land.

      Israelis live in fear because of their own propaganda. “Drive all jews into the sea.” Source? If it was broadcast as frequently and ubiquitously as Israel claims it should not be hard to find a recording of it.

      OT:
      I am personally disgusted by a woman who sings about women’s rights while women are shot deliberately by the country that she represents. But perhaps it makes her happy.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kathleen

      I’m disgusted at the previous comments. Seems they don’t have access to the footage showing the targeting and blatant murder of unarmed civilians among them doctors and journalists. I wonder if that’s why the Israeli journalists are forbidden to cover the protest or is it because their government doesn’t want the Israeli people to know whats really going on?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Yaacov Rabinowitz

      Bullshit article

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben

      So an article about a popular American performer brings in a slew of new names here among the commenters, and except for ‘Antares’ and ‘Kathleen,’ what is notable about them is how crude, dumbed down, arrogant and blissfully/willfully ignorant they are. The occupation depends on this kind of thing, and the American diaspora is all this on steroids.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Adam

      An excellent insight into racism, postmodernism and hypocrisy across the world.

      Reply to Comment

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