There was uproar when Ukrainian President Zelensky was prevented from speaking at the Eurovision Song Contest by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) because it would have politicised the competition. Sunak wanted Zelensky to speak. The Tory press were calling on the BBC to ignore the ban and broadcast his speech anyway. And of course Starmer got in on the act, saying:
“Eurovision is an expression of international unity and freedom, and President Zelensky should be able to address it as a great defender of both.”
Apparently banning Russia from taking part was not political. It was a gesture of solidarity with a war-torn country. This will come as a surprise to the Palestinians as they remember 75 years of being a war-torn country since the ‘Nakba’ or ‘Catastrophe’ of 1948, when the nascent Israeli state slaughtered thousands and drove 750,000 Palestinians into exile and destroyed 500 towns and villages.
And since then the Nakba has continued. Amnesty describes Israel as an apartheid state in which Palestinians have fewer rights than Jewish citizens. In the occupied territories Palestinians are still being driven from their land to make way for Jewish settlers.
But this has never led to a ban by the EBU. Israel has enjoyed almost uninterrupted participation in the Eurovision Song Contest since 1973. Lebanon was forced to withdraw in 2005 when it refused to broadcast the Israeli entry. Lebanon is also a war-torn country. Tens of thousands of its citizens have died as a result of Israeli invasions and bombing raids alongside Palestinian refugees living within Lebanon’s borders. Then in 2019 the EBU fined Iceland 5000 euros when their entry, Hatari, held up Palestinian flags at the final in Tel Aviv.
This year, while the Israeli entry was in Liverpool, the 75th anniversary of the Nakba was marked by sustained air raids and rocket assaults on Gaza by Israeli forces. The media went full-on Eurovision and ignored the carnage in Gaza. Over five days 33 were killed, 190 wounded and 950 had their homes destroyed in the Israeli onslaught. Last year saw the highest number of Palestinian deaths since 2005 as 170 were killed.
The new right-wing coalition under Netanyahu is escalating the violence and the scale of ethnic cleansing. Only now the racist violence is unashamedly expressed in words and deeds to such an extent that even ardent apologists for Israel like Margaret Hodge and Simon Schama have felt obliged to speak out against Netanyahu. But this is no new departure. Netanyahu is merely intensifying a policy that is as old as Israel itself.
Every settler state in history has had to drive out or subjugate the original inhabitants. Not so many have enjoyed unqualified political, financial and military support from the so-called defenders of ‘international unity and freedom’ like Britain and the USA, while their victims were being erased from history, just as surely as Israel is trying to erase the Palestinians. But after 75 years they refuse to be erased. Palestine continues to resist, and as socialists we applaud their resistance.