Eurovision: Material Girl Madonna shuns Palestine solidarity

Eurovision: Material Girl Madonna shuns Palestine solidarity
Comment: A kitschy talent contest is not more important than Palestinian rights, writes Ruby Hamad.
6 min read
10 Apr, 2019
Madonna is set to perform two songs at the interval of Tel Aviv Eurovision [Getty]
Like much of the world, Australia has been obsessed with Eurovision long before it first took part in the annual singing and songwriting talent competition in 2015. 

SBS, a publicly-funded television station has been broadcasting the spectacle every year since 1983.

And although Eurovision has never been my deal, I also see no value in trashing it without a good reason. Why criticise something that brings others joy? We could certainly all use some, especially if that joy is more or less harmless.

But this year is a different story: This year it isn't harmless.

The contest takes place in the home country of the previous year's winner, and with last year's competition won by Israeli performer Netta, Eurovision 2019 is set to begin in Tel Aviv on May 14.

Since this is I guess, a cultural event, this means Eurovision 2019 conflicts with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, and Palestinian organisers have explicitly asked performers to refrain from taking part in this year's competition.

Regardless of anyone's feelings on BDS in general, it's not asking a great deal to abstain from participating - whether as contestants or viewers - in a celebration of this magnitude.

Eurovision showcases a multitude of nationalities and countries coming together in one big glitzy global party. It's also a celebration that will be taking place mere kilometres from where the rights of Palestinians are being violated on a daily basis.

It's a celebration that will be taking place mere kilometres from where the rights of Palestinians are being violated on a daily basis

Given the history of the misnamed Israel-Palestine conflict (can it truthfully be deemed a "conflict" when it consists largely of one powerful side exercising its brute power over the other?) an escalation of the violation of the human rights of Palestinians may have seemed impossible, but somehow it isn't.

In the last two–three weeks alone:

Israel announced plans to formally annex the West Bank, surprising literally no-one who has more than a passing knowledge of the conflict and has long given up on the possibility of Israel permitting a two-state solution.

This annexation will make the illegal Israeli settlements on land illegally confiscated from Palestinians formally part of Israel proper but will not extend to those Palestinians living in the West Bank. They will remain stateless and under occupation on their own ever-dwindling land.

Israel closed the crossings into the West Bank and Gaza for a 24-hour period during the national elections, once again cutting off Palestinians from the outside world altogether, and demonstrating its complete and utter control over their lives in the process.

Read more: Lana Del Rey cancels Israel show following boycott campaign

Israel has continued to greet Palestinian protestors at the Gaza border with gas bombs, snipers and all-out assault. Children, journalists and medics have not been spared the carnage.

Amid this backdrop, the saccharine sweetness that is Eurovision with its pretensions of acceptance and tolerance is rather on the nose.

Perhaps anticipating a lukewarm global reception, Israel is pulling out the big guns - no pun intended - this week, announcing that Madonna will perform two songs at an interval during competition during the festivities.

Material Girl or no, it's really not a lot to ask that people abstain this once.

We're always told now is not the time to talk about Palestine and other assaults by the West on the Middle East.

It wasn't the time when Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for president and we objected to her ultra-hawkish views on the region. Her 2016 election campaign policies included a promise to take the US-Israel alliance "to the next level," as well as promising yet more money, more weapons and tougher sanctions on Israel's "enemies."

In a campaign speech, she also scolded Palestinian leaders "to stop inciting violence, stop celebrating terrorists as martyrs and stop paying rewards to their families," before going on to condemn the "alarming" BDS movement as "anti-Semitic."

People seem to think having a party is just so much more important than the human rights of Palestinians

It also wasn't the time to talk about Palestine and the Middle East when some Facebook posts emerged from Wonder Woman herself, aka Israeli actress Gal Gadot, that expressed enthusiastic supported for the 2014 assault on Gaza. Gadot praised the IDF for "protecting" Israeli citizens from terrorists, and, like Clinton, also laid the blame for the conflict firmly on the shoulders of Palestinians.

And now, apparently, it's not the time because people seem to think having a party is just so much more important than the human rights of Palestinians. 

Australian entry Kate Miller-Heidke brushed off the criticism, rejecting appeals to cancel her appearance by claiming she wants to go to Israel to learn more about the conflict and meet with Palestinians. We all know this is a copout. Apart from the privileged ignorance of being able to blithely admit to not knowing about what is happening there, this betrays a deliberate decision to ignore the Palestinians speaking out to her right now, requesting she and others not to attend the event.

Yes, we all have a right to make our decisions on our political beliefs and actions. We also have a right to critique and respond to the actions of others.

After so many years of Palestinians and their allies racking our brains wondering what exactly it is going to take to make the world care enough to do something about their ongoing persecution and occupation, that the world's response is to literally sing and dance on their graves and on their ongoing struggle, is a pill that is not so much bitter to swallow as it is outright impossible.

Now is the time we stop making excuses for the inexcusable.

There are many struggles and oppressions in this world, but there are few we can actually do something about.

Those of us who reside in and are citizens of the West can do something about Palestine because it is our governments, our diplomatic support, and our dollars that help to make their oppression possible.

The world's response is to literally sing and dance on their graves and on their ongoing struggle

This is why we seem to be missing such a golden opportunity; the boycotting of Eurovision 2019 has the potential to be powerful enough to extend beyond the realm of symbolism and into the realm of meaningful action.

Now is the time. Even if you don't agree with BDS in general, a kitschy talent quest is not more important than the struggle of a people for life, dignity and self-determination.

Given this urgent context, it's sadly easy to see that anyone who publicly supports this year's Eurovision is clearly more interested in pursuing their personal pleasure, than in alleviating the pain of others.

To go on ignoring this ongoing calamity of our own making just so we can feel good about participating in something for our own fleeting pleasure is a screaming siren announcing we have decided that our entertainment is more paramount than the lives and suffering of other people.

Actions can sometimes change the course of history for the better. If only we were brave enough and cared enough to say together: Enough is enough. Set Palestine free.

Ruby Hamad is a writer and Phd candidate in media and postcolonial studies at the University of New South Wales. Born in Lebanon and raised in Australia, she splits her time between Sydney and New York. 

Follow her on Twitter: @rubyhamad

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.