When it was conceived in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest was designed to bring together the countries of Europe who in the past decades lived in a state of war, by allowing each constituent nation to present a light-hearted song to a pan-European audience. Since then, the contest has grown to include nations that cannot conceivably be called European, most notably Australia, while the music has become increasingly disco orientated. Adding to this diluted atmosphere, votes for an eventual winner are increasingly based on geopolitical style pacts rather than based on the genuine popularity of a song. The best part is that none of this mattered much, particularly in the United States where few people have ever heard of the contest.
Now though, the entire world is going to hear about the Eurovision Song Contest because several conflicting geopolitical and socio-political narratives have congealed all at once and will continue to do so until next year’s contest.
This year’s winner was “Israel” and the winning singer was Netta Barzilai. Netta became known for what in the context of a pageant like Eurovision can only be described as a hetrodox appearance while her song “Toy” conveyed the themes of post-modern militant feminism and so-called “female empowerment”. While many liberal Europeans cheered for such a theme, many more pointed out the hypocrisy of combining the message of “female empowerment” with Zionist nationalism. If there was any doubt that Palestinians were totally ignored by Netta, during her victory speech she shouted, “next time in Jerusalem”, a popular slogan among Zionist nationalists. Making matters even worse, the pseudo-north east Asian style of clothes that Netta was wearing was labelled by some as “cultural appropriation”, while at such a point many pointed out that much of “Israeli” culture has been an appropriation of indigenous Arab-Levantine culture.
What this proved is that for Palestine supporters, the entire matter had a tragic and farcical manner to it while many liberals were conflicted between their traditional attitude of “let’s cheer on feminism while ignoring geopolitical disaster zones like Palestine” versus “let’s cheer feminism but condemn cultural appropriation”.
But the most interesting aspect of the entire contest is that according to Eurovision rules, the winner’s home country will automatically be set to host next year’s competition. As the contest will be held in “Israel”, this means that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) which was founded in 2005 will likely get its largest multi-national platform in its history during the run-up to the 2019 Eurovision.
BDS calls for a cultural/artistic and economic boycott of “Israel” until such a time that Palestine is universally recognised as a state and its people are given the just settlement they have been fighting for over the past seventy years. Thus far, BDS has been most notable for calling upon major international performers to boycott “Israel” just as the 1980s the anti-Apartheid movement called for an artistic boycott of South Africa until a new constitutional settlement could be reached to guarantee democratic majority rule.
The most well-known supporter of BDS in the international music community is Roger Waters, the long-time former leader of Pink Floyd who is currently on a world tour. Waters’ lyrical poetry never shied away from political themes and on his current tour he has taken aim at everything from American war crimes to the pro-Takfiri White Helmets, to the plight of Palestine, to lashing out at Donald Trump, most notably with the lyric “Picture a leader with no fucking brains”.
For many years, Roger Waters has penned open letters encouraging artists considering performing in “Israel” to withdraw from performances in solidarity with BDS. Some of his most infamous targets have been Radiohead, Nick Cave and Bon Jovi.
Now though, far from a single concert by a single band or solo artist performing in “Israel”, each of the 52 nations who participate in Eurovision will have to consider whether they will cross the BDS picket line and perform in “Israel”. Likewise, the tens of thousands of fans from each nation who travel to the competition on a yearly basis will also have to ask themselves the same question.
Because of the multi-national and inter-continental nature of Eurovision, BDS now has the opportunity to promote its message to a larger audience than ever before. Forgetting the often light nature of the music at Eurovision, the fact remains that the Song Contest is one of the world’s largest music festivals and also one of the few music festivals that is televised live around the globe.
If BDS is able to have an impact on a cultural event of this magnitude, it would without question be the biggest ever success for a movement that for years has attempted to shed light on the plight of Palestine to people throughout the world.