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Malia Bouattia

No Pride in Israeli Apartheid: Time to #BoycottEurovision2019

The 2019 Eurovision song contest is scheduled for for May, in Tel Aviv [Twitter]

Date of publication: 1 December, 2018

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Comment: The case for cultural boycott is directly linked to the erasure of Palestinian history and culture at the hands of the Israeli state, writes Malia Bouattia.
Culture has always served as a powerful weapon. It can fuel progressive mass movements and it can also be used as a tool of propaganda against them. Israel is no stranger to using such tactics to whitewash its crimes against the Palestinian people.

Palestine solidarity groups, and Palestinian civil society have long been attuned to the Israeli government's efforts to use culture to spread the fabricated idea that it is the only democracy in the Middle East; open to all forms of artistic expression, free of the conservative repressions that supposedly defines the rest of the region.

It is for this reason that hundreds of writers, musicians, bands, singers, artists, directors, actors and many others have signed up to calls for a cultural boycott of Israel. Supportive figures include Chuck D, Talib Kweli, Arundhati Roy, Judith Butler, Naomi Klein, Ken Loach, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and many more.

In the Israeli state's attempts to normalise its actions, there have been several PR projects, the latest being its success at the last Eurovision song contest.

Israeli singer Netta Barzilai's win at the Eurovisions, means that the 2019 competition is due to be hosted in Israel.

While Netanyahu and his government celebrated the event, just two days later the Israeli army killed over 60 Palestinians (among them children), in Gaza during the Great Return March.

The contest would be taking place in a country that continues to colonise Palestinians through an illegal occupation

Since then, over 140 artists around the world have signed a call to boycott of the event itself, stating in an open letter that "until Palestinians can enjoy freedom, justice and equal rights, there should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights."

The European Broadcasting Union has since written to the Israeli prime minister requesting that "visitors to Israel be allowed to travel anywhere without restrictions regardless of their political opinions or sexual orientation, and that [Israeli public broadcaster] Kan have complete freedom in editing the broadcast".

However, some have dubbed this a pointless demand given that it is a request that concerns itself only with the contest, and not on lifting the systematic repression placed upon Palestinians and vocal supporters of their liberation all year round.

Even if Netanyahu agrees, the contest would be taking place in a country that continues to colonise Palestinians through an illegal occupation, regular house demolitions, discriminatory laws, and its deadly blockade.

Either way, given that the Israeli strategic affairs minister, Gilad Erdan, has denounced such a suggestion by the Broadcasting Union - claiming they have no right to do so - few are holding their breath about the outcome of the demand.

But activists across the UK are already fighting back.

Earlier this month,
queer activists protested the Eurovision winner's performance at London's famous gay club, Heaven.

The action served to counter the pinkwashing used by Israel - namely through Barzilai's role as a cultural ambassador for the state - which the organisers
described as a "cynical campaign to use LGBT rights to shield itself from criticism of its decades-old oppression of Palestinians."

The
musical protest also answered the BDS call from Palestinian 'queers and allies' over Barzilai "using pop music to keep Israel's ongoing denial of Palestinian human rights out of mind".

The night was described as a successful action despite the lack of response from the club's owner. The coalition of groups that joined London Palestine Action included Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Queer Strike, and No to Pinkwashing, with individuals waving "Queers for BDS" and "No Pride in Apartheid" rainbow placards.

Summed up as an incredibly vibrant protest, which drew in many allies, the direct action collective described the evening beautifully:

"We belted out karaoke versions of all your fave gay anthems, giving them a BDS twist. "Yes BDS", our cover of YMCA, was a particular hit! But the absolute highlight of the evening was a dabke performance in the street by the Hawiyya dance troupe - an amazing celebration of Palestinian culture in the face of Israel's 'art-washing'."

The normalisation of Israeli Apartheid is part of a broader structure of erasure and violence

The work hasn't stopped there. Last weekend, Palestine solidarity groups called for protests to take place outside of the BBC studios in London and Manchester, urgign them to withdraw from the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest due to take place in Israel.

The organisers of the #BoycottEurovision2019  demonstrations are calling on people to "take a stand against the BBC art washing apartheid".

The case for cultural boycott is directly linked to the erasure of Palestinian history and culture at the hands of the Israeli state.

In that vein, activists reinforce Palestine's art and rich heritage - whether it is through dabke dancers at protests, or hosting speakers from arts co-operatives like the
Women in Hebron.

The Electronic Intifada recently published a piece on Israel's growing fear over the boycott, following a confidential report by Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) - a group that they described as a 'thinly-disguised front group for the far-right Israel lobby organization StandWithUs' - which was  seen by The Hollywood Reporter.

The report describes the growing success of boycott campaigns as well as the numerous links between BDS movements and others such as Black Lives Matter and feminist organisations.

These fears are running particularly high after the withdrawal of numerous artists - among them Lana Del Ray - and public support for the boycott at this year's Meteor festival in Israel.

#DJsForPalestine was established with artists collectively stating that "as long as the Israeli government continues its brutal and sustained oppression of the Palestinian people, we respect their call for a boycott of Israel as a means of peaceful protest against the occupation."

While the cultural boycott is gaining ground, so too is the campaign against it.

I am often contacted by activists and students about attempts by lobby groups, and pro-Israel protestors to apply pressure on universities, museums, concert venues, and community centres to cancel events related to expressing solidarity with Palestine.

Venues withdraw their support, funding is taken away, people are even threatened with their jobs and positions.

While the cultural boycott is gaining ground, so too is the campaign against itsoccupation

This sometimes surprises activists who are hosting an evening of music, or Palestinian cooking, or an art exhibition, because there is the assumption that it would not be as politically charged as a panel on BDS or Israeli Apartheid, for example.

In reality, as long as Palestine is in the mix, no matter whether its political status is even mentioned, events are more often than not targeted.

The occupation attempts to increasingly enforce a total erasure of Palestine, both physically - as more land is annexed and illegal settlements are built - as well as culturally, as it targets traditions, practices, and Palestinians' collective memory through art.

Malcolm X once said that "culture is an indispensable weapon in the freedom struggle". The Israeli state knows this all too well as it organises its cultural counter offensive.

Read more: #DontToyWithApartheid: LGBTQ groups demand boycott of Israeli singer's gay club concert

It is the very reason that we cannot be complacent about events and projects that work with organisations and collectives that are complicit with Palestinian dispossession or its normalisation.

It is why we must oppose attempts of watering down or depoliticising the art and culture of resistance. Whether in a nightclub, at a concert, or an exhibition, the normalisation of Israeli Apartheid is part of a broader structure of erasure and violence. We must refuse to be complicit. Until Palestine is free.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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.

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