UK participation in Eurovision 2019 in Israel would condone “outrageous human rights violations”

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I’m just back from Lisbon where I was lucky enough to have a stageside position for the Eurovision Song Contest last Saturday. Apart from a nasty stage invasion during Surie’s performance (with which she dealt brilliantly), the whole thing went without a hitch.

Portugal were Eurovision Song Contest entrants for 53 years before they won it in 2017. As a result, they were desperate to welcome everybody to their country and to put on a fantastic experience. That they did. Apart from anything else, Lisbon must have been the most LGBT+ friendly capital city in the world during the last week or so.

This was a “bucket list” trip for me. A one-off. Any temptation to become an annual Eurovision camp follower was cut short with the prospect of a 2019 contest in Israel.

From a musical point of view, Israel deserved to win last Saturday. The scoring system is, nowadays, fairly balanced between national juries and the vote of viewers throughout the 42 participating countries. So, they won fair and square.

On Sunday I was resolved to resist any 2019 Eurovision trip to Israel. While I might one day tour Palestine, Israel and Jordan as a triplet itinerary, visiting specifically Israel for Eurovision would feel like condoning injustice.

Then came Monday’s events – described by the High commissioner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, as “outrageous human rights violations”. In a further tweet, @UNHumanRights condemned “the appalling, deadly violence in #Gaza (on 14th May) during which 58 Palestinians were killed and almost 1,360 demonstrators were injured with live ammunition by Israeli security forces.” Yet another @UNHumanRights tweet said “The rules on the use of force under int’l law have been repeated many times but appear to be ignored again and again. It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press, first responders, bystanders, & at almost any point up to 700m from the fence.”

I was struck by the words of American Rabbi, Rabbi Latz who said:

I am a rabbi. I love Israel. I condemn without reservation the bloodshed in #Gaza. Not so hard. You can challenge the Israeli government’s policies without being anti-Semitic.

Audrey Bruner of Jewish Voice for Peace said:

As a Jew, I have a responsibility to speak out publicly when violence is committed in my name.

The Nation writer, Max Berger tweeted on Monday:

This is a horrifying day to be a Jew. We dishonor our ancestors who yearned to be free for generations when our freedom comes at the expense of another people. If we are to be free, the Palestinian people must be free as well. Those who deny their freedom deny ours as well.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb commented:

I am shaken to the core that Israeli military forces are continuing to shoot unarmed men, women & children engaged in nonviolent protest. We cannot be silent. The killing/maiming of Palestinians seeking their human rights must stop.

It’s a long way away, but I think it would be unconscionable for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to hold the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, after the events of Monday.

If the EBU somehow do hold the contest in Israel (which would entail considerable security and arena capacity issues, apart from anything else) then the UK should boycott it. If we participate, it will be condoning the “outrageous human rights violations” on Monday.

OK, there is blame on both sides and the events should be properly investigated, but to go ahead with planning a cheery family event in Israel next May, and somehow pretend things are normal, would be ludicrous and unethical.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • On this basis, I hope you are also proposing a boycott of the World Cup in Russia?

  • Funny there didn’t seem to be any lib dems going on about security when it was held in Kiev. The more people that turn it down the more availability there will be for braver fans. Happened in Ukraine 13 years ago.

  • George Kendall 17th May '18 - 6:30am

    Hi Paul,

    If you had just condemned Israel, I’d agree with your dismissal of whataboutery. But you’ve suggested the UK boycott it.

    For myself, at present I don’t think I could travel to Israel. But before I supported a boycott by my country, I’d want to be sure we were following consistent criteria.

    But if we want consistent criteria, then the question of whether we should boycott the World Cup in Russia is a perfectly valid question.

    Remember, Russian forces have illegally annexed part of one of its neighbours (Ukraine), it is keeping alive frozen conflicts in three countries (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia), it was found by a UK court to be responsible for killing someone with Polonium some years ago, and is thought by our government to have also attempted murder here very recently.

    If we boycotted Israel and not Russia, what would be the justification? Maybe there is a good argument, but saying “whataboutery” isn’t one.

  • Whatabout an answer, Paul? Do you agree with me that Russia’s record in Crimea, Ukraine and Georgia, together with its attitude on LBGT and to freedom of the press Is equally as reprehensible as Israel’s behaviour? And, if do, why not post a longer piece on countries including the above that could be deemed unsuitable to host major events or visits to such events?

  • Have you seen the very recent opinion poll. in 2017 most people asked thought this country should NOT participate in Eurovision, this year by a significant majority they think we SHOULD, a big switch, probably in line with thinking on the EU as a whole. So looking at the bigger picture perhaps we should participate. Anyway a year is a very long time in politics, let us see how things develop, change can occur very quickly.

  • Steve Trevethan 17th May '18 - 10:19am

    Thank you for an article which raises several important, if not comfortable, questions.
    These include what is acceptable behaviour by a government, what it is acceptable for those affected by it to do, what is appropriate for “audiences” and those who are indirectly connected to do and consistency.
    If we can develop some sound approaches, if not answers, to these questions we shall have done well.

  • Paul – I agree with you entirely, but not just for the reasons you have suggested. The deliberate shoot to kill policy if the Israeli government against (mostly) unarmed demonstrators is outrageous and should be referred to the International Criminal Court. More than that Israel enjoys enormous privileges with the UK and the EU – including visa free travel which is denied to Palestinians living in the occupied territories. It claims to be a liberal democracy but is far from a liberal democracy in the way that it treats Palestinians as second class citizens in so many ways. As this separate but unequal treatment is racist in its application, we shouldn’t normalise relations with Israel culturally until it stops its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and learns to treat Palestinians as genuine equal citizens.

  • Jonathan Davies 17th May '18 - 5:46pm

    John, I seem to recall you supported a Conference motion last September that described the pre-1967 “Green line” as the existing boundaries of Israel and Palestine. The sites being mentioned as likely locations for the Eurovision song contest are within the pre-1967 border, as incidentally is the new US Embassy. So what’s the objection – unless you’re denying the legitimacy of Israel even within pre-1967 borders

  • Robin Bennett 17th May '18 - 6:50pm

    It is reasonable to stop the public enjoyment of international contests to make a valuable human rights point. In that vein, it is a shame that it was not decided to withdraw the England football team from the World Cup in Russia after Skripal. (Scotland had already done so, ha ha). Such a gesture before the Russian Presidential election would have been more painful for Putin than expelling embassy staff. It would have spoiled the party and, who knows, might have led to other withdrawals, such as France, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.

    So far as withdrawing from Eurovision 2019 is concerned, we have just about missed the opportunity of immediacy. And after our failure re Russia it would be inconsistent to do so. But if by any chance Israel decides to hold the contest in the occupied (post 1967) territories, then that would be a provocation too far and, regardless of our previous apathy, we should withdraw.

  • Geoffrey Payne 17th May '18 - 7:07pm

    I think a far more significant question is whether we and the US should be selling arms to Israel. As things stand the status quo enormously favours Israel and they have no incentive to negotiate a peace deal.

  • Steve Trevethan 17th May '18 - 7:19pm

    It is reported that in 1947 the UN allocated some 56.5% of Palestine for the new state of Israel. Some 43.5 percent of Palestine was the proportion of that land allocated to the Palestinians.
    It is reported that the Palestinians now occupy some 8.8% of their former homeland.
    Is it surprising that, with or without “political encouragement”, they wish to protest about their current and future likely circumstances?

  • Jonathan Davies – I do accept 1967 borders and I wish Israel did too. As John McHugh points out, Jerusalem is being discussed as a possible venue. Although Israel (and its US patron) treat Jerusalem as Israel’s to do with as it pleases, it would be a further affront to international law if the contest was held anywhere in Jerusalem. Even if it’s moved to Tel Aviv or somewhere else, the contest would add to the veneer of unjustified respectability that Israel just does not deserve at this time. Cultural and sporting boycotts along Apartheid era South African lines would be a very good idea.

    I agree with Geoff Payne that there should be an embargo on arms sales to Israel – indeed arms trade with Israel. Israel is itself selling arms that it has proudly tested on Palestinian civilians to countries like Myanmar and some very dubious African regimes.

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