Israel’s winning entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, “Toy” by Netta Barzilai, has been hailed by the media for having a powerful anti-bullying message, celebrating diversity and women’s empowerment and capturing the #MeToo movement. The ABC’s live blog of the competition raved about it as an “incredible song”, its victory “fully deserved!”
You’d be forgiven for thinking the song had single-handedly revived the women’s liberation movement with lyrics such as “you’re stupid just like your smartphone” and “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy”.
But is the win something to celebrate?
Eurovision was conceived, as author Tim Moore wrote in the Guardian, “in the dark cold war days of 1956”. Its purpose was to foster a pan-European identity to aid the EU’s geopolitical competition with the US and the Soviet Union.
More than 60 years later, European imperialist interests still reign supreme in the contest. Eurovision rules state that any flags waved in the audience must not be political. But the interests of the European ruling class determine how this rule is interpreted.
For example, the national flags of competing countries are not considered political. Nor are rainbow pride flags – the capitalists of Germany, France and Spain want to appear progressive. Inflatable war hammers and battleaxes adorned with the flag of Israel are frequently seen in the crowd.
They bring to mind the words of Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said of “disloyal” Arab citizens of Israel: “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an axe and cut off his head”. The rules don’t mention these, but they’re there, so they mustn’t be political.
But the Basque and Crimean flags are deemed political, and therefore are forbidden. So is the flag of Palestine. For Europe, having Israel as a Western-aligned “watchdog” in the Middle East is far too important to allow a Palestinian flag to be seen on camera.
Winning Eurovision has been part of a long, cynical project by Israel to promote itself as a feminist, gay-friendly utopia – which has included a very literal instance of pinkwashing when it painted fighter jets pink – to distract from its brutal oppression of the Palestinian people.
Hosting Eurovision next year will be a further boon for that project. Artists from around Europe (and Australia) will descend on the country, posting to social media snaps of their carefully stage-managed tours.
Journalists will live cross from the streets of Jerusalem, normalising the occupation. The broadcast of the competition itself, known colloquially as the “gay Olympics”, will be one long advert for Israel.
In her acceptance speech, Netta cried, “Thank you so much for celebrating diversity!” That’s rich coming from a representative of an ethno-state with segregated roads, and which is deporting thousands of African asylum seekers.
Her song’s feminist message also has more than a whiff of hypocrisy. Israel is imprisoning hundreds of political prisoners. Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old woman arrested for slapping an Israeli soldier, was sexually harassed by her interrogators.
In 2014, Netta served in the Israeli navy band, singing to a force that participates in the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. After her Eurovision victory, and after the most recent slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, she danced with war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite this, praise has been heaped on her by the media for announcing she will march in the Tel Aviv Pride parade.
Malcolm X once warned: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”.
This warning has been heeded by some at least, as calls have emerged for Australia to boycott next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Rather than participate in or cheer on Israel’s public relations coup, we should instead stand with Palestinians such as Ahed Tamimi who slap back, rather than turn the other cheek, at their ongoing oppression.