Music

I’m Boycotting Eurovision This Year, And Here’s Why

"We must refuse to be part of the charade that allows Israel to mask its human rights violations with song and dance."

Eurovision Israel

In 1998, for the first time in my lifetime, Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest.

How exciting! My country, the country I’d left as a child, the country that was still very much my home, had won an international competition. Not only that but the winner, Dana International, was a trans woman of colour who spoke out against prejudice and division in Israeli society.

In 2018, Israel won Eurovision again, this time with Netta Barzilai’s chirpy song ‘Toy’. But this time around, the victory left me less joyful. In the 20 years between Dana International and Netta, my relationship with my country of birth had changed drastically. I’d been back to visit Israel many times, and what I saw broke my heart.

I’d spent time with Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, who had been expelled from their homes so that religious fundamentalists could live there instead.

I’d met refugees from countries like Sudan and Eritrea who were living on the streets of south Tel Aviv, subject to constant racist attacks. I’d met a young journalist who grew up in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip after his grandparents were ethnically-cleansed from their home in present-day Israel.

I’d been tear-gassed by the Israeli army, alongside Palestinian villagers who were protesting the confiscation of their land. I’d heard about the villagers of al-Araqib, whose village has been demolished by the Israeli state over 100 times. I’d come to realise that the country I loved was built on the oppression and dispossession of its Indigenous people — the Palestinians.

In the face of so much suffering and oppression, it’s easy to feel helpless. What can I — what can any one person — do to stop this injustice? Especially when we live on the other side of the world?

Boycott, Divestment, And Sanctions

Thankfully there is something that people here in Australia can do to support a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis. In 2005, a coalition of Palestinian labour unions and other civil society organisations launched the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS for short) against the state of Israel.

This non-violent campaign takes its cue from the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, which also used economic and cultural boycotts to put pressure on the South African government to end apartheid. The strength of this strategy is that it relies on the collective power of ordinary people around the world — one person may be powerless in the face of injustice, but millions of us banding together can make a real difference.

I’d come to realise that the country I loved was built on the oppression and dispossession of its Indigenous people — the Palestinians.

The economic part of the boycott is fairly simple: If enough people refuse to buy from, or invest in, companies that make money from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, then we can force those companies to stop profiting from human rights abuses, and remove the funding that keeps the occupation going.

The cultural part of the boycott may seem less obvious: lots of people think that music isn’t political and that we should keep it that way. But in a country built on human rights abuses, everything is political. The Israeli government knows this — that’s why prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Netta Barzilai “Israel’s best ambassador”.

Israel’s public relations strategy is based on branding itself as a vibrant, modern, diverse society that nurtures music, art, literature, and culture.

Getting to host this year’s Eurovision is a major victory for Israel. By focusing the world’s attention on the international music competition, they’re hoping they can distract us from their abhorrent human rights record.

Essentially Israel is saying to the world, “pay no attention to that dying Palestinian behind the curtain” and hoping we focus on the music and dancing instead.

Why A Eurovision Boycott Matters

This is why human rights campaigners, musicians, and artists around the world have been calling for a boycott of Eurovision unless it’s relocated to a different country. Just last week, British artists including actress Miriam Margolyes, comedian Alexei Sayle, and musician Peter Gabriel signed an open letter calling on the BBC to press for Eurovision not to be held in Israel.

In Ireland and Iceland, thousands of people have signed petitions supporting a boycott of Eurovision. Maltese author Karl Schembri has urged his country’s musicians to do the same.

Enabling racism and human rights abuses in another part of the world is fundamentally inconsistent with promoting understanding and acceptance of diversity.

None of this is meant as a criticism of Australian Eurovision representative Kate Miller-Heidke, or any of the other musicians performing in this year’s competition. Being chosen to represent your country is a huge honour and opportunity for any artist, and being asked to give that up is a big sacrifice — but it’s also a chance to be part of the movement that’s changing the world for the better.

Here in Australia, over 2,000 people have signed an online petition asking SBS to take a stand for human rights, and refuse to broadcast Eurovision if it’s held in Israel. People are tweeting the hashtag #boycotteurovision2019 to ask SBS and Kate Miller-Heidke to respect the boycott.

After all, part of SBS’s charter is to “promote understanding and acceptance” of “cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity”. Enabling racism and human rights abuses in another part of the world is fundamentally inconsistent with promoting understanding and acceptance of diversity.

A spokesperson for SBS told Junkee “SBS respects and supports the right for people to express their views. SBS has been proudly broadcasting Eurovision for 35 years and we will continue to do so in 2019 because of the spirit of the event in bringing people and cultures together in a celebration of diversity and inclusion through music.”

It might seem strange that I’m asking for a boycott of my own country. The way I see it, this boycott is the best chance we have to get the Israeli government to do the right thing. It’s the best chance to make things right without resorting to violence.

That’s why I’m asking Australians to take the side of justice, and refuse to be part of the charade that allows Israel to mask its human rights violations with song and dance.


Ali Nissenbaum is a third-generation Israeli and a first generation migrant to Australia. They are on Twitter at @ntafraidofruins.