GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — As pro-Palestinian advocates stepped up their requests for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 scheduled to take place in Israel, Palestinian Minister of Culture Ehab Bseiso called on all cultural promoters in Europe and elsewhere to use culture as “a tool for justice, not oppression.”
Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah Sept. 17, Bseiso accused Israel of regularly violating Palestinian rights in the occupied territories, particularly for artists, by either restricting their movement, arresting them for their works of art and closing cultural institutions.
“We look at Eurovision as a contest to promote culture and art,” he was quoted by the local news agencies as saying. “Therefore any cultural event that is not in line with international legitimacy would be a recognition of the occupation’s policy.”
He praised the European artists who signed a petition calling on Eurovision not to hold its event in Israel. “The statement that was published and signed by an elite of male and female intellectuals — particularly from Europe — is for us an important message that Palestine is not alone," he said.
The remarks of the minister follow an open letter to The Guardian, signed by 140 artists from 18 countries inside and outside Europe, including six Israeli artists.
The open letter, published Sept. 7, said, “There should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights. … We understand that the European Broadcasting Union [EBU] is demanding that Israel finds a 'non-divisive' location for the 2019 Eurovision,” — in reference to the possibility of holding it in Jerusalem. It continued, “It should cancel Israel’s hosting of the contest altogether and move it to another country with a better human rights record.”
The artists’ letter came following a June 12 appeal published on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) website from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and network of Palestinian cultural organizations, calling on the EBU’s members and Eurovision contestants and the public to boycott the song contest due to the Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
The appeal said, “Since March 30, 2018, Israeli snipers have implemented a shoot-to-kill-or-maim policy, killing more than 117 unarmed Palestinian protesters, including 13 children, and injuring more than 13,000, leaving many with life-changing disabilities. … On May 14 alone, just two days after its Eurovision win, Israel massacred 62 Palestinians in Gaza, including six children.”
On May 13, Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheal Mac Donncha was the first to call for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest next year. While Irish parliamentarians demanded that their country refrains from taking part in the contest, 26,000 people from Iceland petitioned against Eurovision 2019, a few hours after Israel killed 62 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during peaceful protests.
In an interview with Al-Monitor Sept 14, Bseiso expressed gratitude for all of the boycotting artists and perceived that they have sided with the recourse of peace, international legitimacy and stability in the Middle East and the world. He noted that there is a bias toward Israel, which is persecuting the Palestinians.
He added, “Via Al-Monitor, we call on all of the world institutions and bodies dealing with Israel to abide by the international resolutions related to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis and not to take a leap that would heighten tensions.”
Tel Aviv was chosen over Jerusalem Sept. 13 to host the Eurovision Song Contest on May 14-18, 2019. After Tel Aviv was selected, the EBU's executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Jon Ola Sand, said, “We received strong bids but in the end we decided that Tel Aviv has the overall best setup to host the biggest entertainment show in the world. … I hope to see you all in Israel in May.”
ESCToday, a website that specializes in Eurovision news, reported Sept. 18 that 27 countries have confirmed their intention to take part in the contest in Israel so far.
Charlie McGettigan, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli army’s killings of Palestinians is the reason why he is not attending the contest in Israel.
He told Al-Monitor, “I was watching the news on a May night while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the opening ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. The attendants were nonchalant about the killing of the 62 Palestinians in Gaza, who were protesting against the opening.”
He added, “Should this barbaric act happen in our country [Ireland], all form of celebrations would have been canceled."
McGettigan affirmed that he is neither anti-Semitic nor has any hostility toward the Jewish people, explaining that he seeks to shed light on the situation in the Palestinian territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
The BDS movement managed to have 16 international artists — such as American singer Lana Del Rey, British singer Little Simz, as well as Henry Laufer, DJ Python and DJ Volvox — cancel their performances at a festival held Sept. 6 in northern Israel, as part of the DJs for Palestine campaign.
An activist of the BDS movement, who declined to be named, told Al-Monitor that they had contacted many of the figures who will boycott the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 and other activities in Israel, whether in person or through social media. He noted that these individuals were provided with documents and evidence proving the magnitude of the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, prompting them to sign the petition and boycott Eurovision 2019.
Palestinian author Yusri al-Ghoul told Al-Monitor that the objective is for the Palestinian cultural institutions to deploy tremendous efforts to have the contest canceled in Israel. He said the efforts should not be limited to the appeal for European and Western artists to boycot the contest.
Ghoul anticipated that more artists will boycott the contest soon, particularly since the BDS movement continues to make efforts in this regard, in cooperation with the Palestinian cultural institutions and backers of the Palestinian cause worldwide. He explained that as Palestinians, they are in favor of cross-cultural communications with different people and countries around the world, yet not with Israel — the country that is prosecuting them.
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