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We made sure Israel couldn't hide the occupation from Eurovision

Israel had hoped to use the Eurovision Song Contest to bolster its international image. We were there to remind the world that there is no business as usual with an occupying state.

By Tanya Rubinstein

Israeli and international activists hold a solidarity protest with Palestinian prisoners outside the Eurovision Song Contest opening ceremony in central Tel Aviv, May 12, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli and international activists hold a solidarity protest with Palestinian prisoners outside the Eurovision Song Contest opening ceremony in central Tel Aviv, May 12, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Contrary to the forecasts, Tel Aviv was not flooded by tens of thousands of European tourists last week, when Israel hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, as was repeatedly promised over the last year. City leaders hastened to reassure residents that the reason for the relatively small number of visitors had absolutely nothing to do with politics. Instead, they said, it was all economic considerations: Tel Aviv is simply too expensive, and many Eurovision fans preferred to stay home.

We will never know how many deliberately avoided Tel Aviv for political reasons. We do know, however, that many of those who chose to come were exposed to the Palestinian struggle, the occupation, the siege on Gaza, and Israel’s systematic violation of the human rights.

This Eurovision will go down in history as yet another moment that made clear that Israel cannot continue acting as if it is a normal country that does normal things. Every single day last week, Israeli, Palestinian, and international activists held a number of actions inside and outside the Eurovision events, as well as in Tel Aviv, Gaza, Ramallah, and Haifa.

Activists from Israel-Palestine and from across the world organized protests, including the Palestinians who held an alternative song contest in various locations across the country, including in the destroyed village of Sheikh Muwannis — where Tel Aviv University now stands. Activists also held direct actions, a demonstration to commemorate last year’s massacre on the Gaza border, and protest outside the Eurovision finale.

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These actions were part of a year-long campaign that called called on artists and tourists to boycott Eurovision in Tel Aviv — to refuse to go along with Israel’s attempts to use the competition to whitewash its crimes against the Palestinian people. These campaigns are a direct continuation of the daily work done by groups that oppose the occupation and struggle for justice.

Between activism on the ground in Israel-Palestine and global campaigns, between Iceland’s gesture of solidarity on live television — even Madonna’s tepid message of co-existence — last week’s activism made clear that there is no such thing as business as usual with an occupying state. It was a testament to the fact that there is a large movement here and across the world that is working together to end the occupation and bring about a more just future.

It is true that many of us are in despair, and that Israel’s apartheid regime and corruption only grows deeper without being forced to pay a price. But if the fact that things are deteriorating hinders us from acting then we have failed in clearly stating our role. After all, the reason to oppose the occupation is not that we have a good chance of succeeding in the near future; the occupation must end because as long as institutional discrimination exists, as long as Palestinians live under a military regime and siege, as long as there are administrative detainees and checkpoints, we must struggle to change reality.

Israeli and Palestinian activists protest outside the Tel Aviv Expo Center during the Eurovision Song Contest finale, May 18, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli and Palestinian activists protest outside the Tel Aviv Expo Center during the Eurovision Song Contest finale, May 18, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

As the situation deteriorates, as it grows more violent, discriminatory and desperate, our activism for peace and justice will become ever more important. As our movement dwindles, our presence becomes evermore critical. And as it begins to feel like we are alone in this struggle, we must raise our heads and show that there are many of us fighting for justice and equality, here in Israel-Palestine, and across the world. After all, just last week we pulled off a string of actions the likes of which we have not seen here in years.

There is no one action, demonstration, or campaign that will end the occupation or bring justice to Palestinian refugees. Therefore what we must do is continue to let the world know what is happening, to stand up for our principles, to resist.

The largest media outlets in the world reported not only on Eurovision, they also paid attention to our demonstrations. It was a week that proved that in our current reality, an international event of this size in Israel will bring about resistance to the occupation. We showed that even without the enormous budgets of the Foreign Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, or the Tel Aviv municipality, we can reach millions of viewers, readers, and tourists.

Tanya Rubinstein is the Co-Coordinator at the Coalition of Women for Peace. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      The title here is “We made sure Israel couldn’t hide the occupation from Eurovision” so I think it’s relevant to point out that the New Yorker just posted an article titled “Eurovision’s Sanitized Vision of Israel” –

      https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/eurovisions-sanitized-vision-of-israel

      “Palestinians in the West Bank continued to live heavily circumscribed lives under Israeli military rule. Gaza has remained under effective siege due to a harsh Israeli blockade, and a million of its residents are reportedly facing the threat of hunger after the Trump Administration cut American funding to the U.N.’s refugee-aid organization.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        Nonetheless it was refreshing to hear France Inter mention the Palestinian alternative competition, BDS and the occupation in its soundbite for the main morning news. This was duly repeated later in the day. And I don’t recall hearing these things being mentioned so succinctly before on French state radio. Regardless of how the New Yorker might spin it, as a result of Eurovision there was more revealed about Israel than Mr Netanyahu might have liked.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      The event took place in Israel. All the artists showed up. The event showcased Israel in absolutely the best possible light. Israelis watched and celebrated along with a hundred million others. I don’t know what these actions are that you are so proud of, but I can guarantee you that the overwhelming majority of Israelis saw and heard of none of them.

      Your single act of solidarity during the whole show lasted for about 3 seconds and was done by extras from a bad porn parody of a Mad Max movie.

      But, you know. Whatever makes you feel better.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        …”but I can guarantee you that the overwhelming majority of Israelis saw and heard of none of them.”

        Oh that misses the point entirely. No one expected Israelis to be influenced, sunk into their narcissistic Eurovision self-involvement trance as they were. I guarantee you the major American and European news outlets carried the protests, demonstrations, juxtapositions, etc. that Tanya Rubinstein reports on here. It’s not Hebrew-language media that matters here, its English, French, German, Spanish, etc.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          Americans don’t know what Eurovision is, so it seems unlikely it or the protests got much attention. Best I can tell the protests were the usual background noise (conflict, conflicting narratives, missiles from Gaza, etc) in all other coverage outside of the usual suspects like AJ, Guardian and the like.

          This silly person is making a mountain out of a complete failure. The Eurovision too place business as usual in Tel Aviv. 200 million saw the live show showcasing the best of Israel. But whatever. One more meaningless protest of a dozen people will surely lead to a major change. Keep hope alive brother.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “the usual suspects like AJ, Guardian and the like”

            It was equally covered on NBC, CBS, NYT, Washington Post, LA Times, Le Monde, German papers, etc. An anti-Semitic conspiracy of the Israel-bashing MSM Fake News I guess! Too bad Bibi couldn’t cut a deal with their editors! Why oh why can’t they live up to the high hasbara standards of the Jerusalem Post?! No fair!

            Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      I’m not a fan of Eurovision, but we must admit that it was a huge success: a beautiful staging (connoisseurs even say the best so far ..), beautiful presenters, beautiful images of Israel circulated around the world. The delegations as a whole were delighted. I can assure you that a score of leftist protesters in general indifference to 10,000 visitors and 200 million viewers do not count …
      There was of course the provocation of the Icelandic band (a country of 300,000 people who eat rotten fish ..) who shocked and suffered the whistling of the crowd. Very funny: for their return to Iceland, ElAl Airlines put the quartet at the bottom of the plane, one behind the other next to the toilet. All Israel laughed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Thanks, this perfectly sums up the insecure, vengeful, mean-spirited, rude, low class Israel that knows it is cannot justify its actions out in the open above board so it has to cover up and persecute free speech and put on fake hasbara “shows” that only it believes and only it thinks others believe. It’s the Israel that only listens to violence and only knows how to do violence.

        For many years now, Israel has been doing to Breaking the Silence, B’tselem, and NGOs that don’t the line the equivalent of putting them at the back of the plane, one behind the other next to the toilet, and worse of course.

        I can assure you the Icelandic quartet withstood the horrors of the back of the plane with aplomb and it only increased their determination and only worsens Israel’s image in civilized places. Halevy has the fantasy that the Icelandic quartet went back to Iceland and got off the plane and said “Oh, my, we had to sit in the back of the plane and the flight attendant was really a shin bet agent and she refused to give us peanuts! The horror, we will never ever challenge Israel again! Oooooh!” LoL.

        What would I do without you, Halevy? You’re such a perfect foil. Note on English usage: We don’t say “bottom” of the plane, we say “back” of the plane. You never did know which way was up, Halevy.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          French is not my mother tongue. I often use electronic translators. To return to those Icelanders who behaved like rude and uneducated guests, it is likely that their country will be excluded from the next Eurovision. In my case, it would not have bothered me to send their luggage to Vietnam for example if I had been an employee of the company ElAl

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            What is your mother tongue?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Itshak Gordine: What language is your mother tongue?

            Reply to Comment