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. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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