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The New York Times can’t even report on the Eurovision Song Contest without resorting to Israeli propaganda

US Politics
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The May 13, 2018 New York Times article, “’Next Year in Jerusalem!’ In Israel, Eurovision Win Is Seen as a Diplomatic Victory, Too,” has enough accuracy to sound credible, but wreaks of the kind of bias and double speak that infects much of the main stream media. Isabel Kershner recounts Netta Barzilai’s stunning victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with her brash, glittery performance of “Toy.” It is inspiring that a larger than your average waif of an actress/singer belts out a song inspired by the Me Too movement and wins an international contest. Kershner does not mention that Barzilai is Mizrachi, but that is a victory of sorts too (of the Obama winning the White House variety) for a society that is struggling with Ashkenazi dominance and institutional racism towards Jews of color.

We should note, of course, that this was a Eurovision Song Contest and that Israel is somehow an honorary member (since 1973) along with Australia, perhaps a nod to other (white) settler colonial states born of European imperialism and colonialism. Kershner dually notes that this outburst of Israeli pride is happening while the US Embassy is opening in Jerusalem, there is “drama” around “stolen Iranian nuclear archives,” Israel is bombing Iranian targets in Syria, and (not mentioned in the initial list but acknowledged later in the piece) dozens of unarmed Gazans have been shot and thousands injured at the border during weeks of mostly nonviolent protest focusing on the Nakba and the decades long refugee crisis.   

Isabel Kershner

Kershner understands that having an Israeli star win big on the world stage makes anxious Israelis feel better, particularly with that powerful cultural boycott movement creating havoc: “…many Israelis hailed it as a diplomatic victory and national vindication.” On the other hand, it is important to remember that this is about an Israeli woman singing and winning a contest, not negotiating peace or ending the occupation. It is also a perfect distraction for Netanyahu and his growing legal troubles and corruption scandals.

Not surprisingly, the idea that next year’s Eurovision contest will now be held in (contested) Jerusalem made Netanyahu positively plotz with excitement. “’Next year in Jerusalem!’” he chirped on Facebook. Kershner acknowledges that the phrase is traditionally sung at the end of the Yom Kippur fast and the Passover seder, but we all know that Israelis have a long tradition of using religion to advance nationalistic motives, starting with the birth of Zionism. This is reported without what I would consider the appropriate level of reflection or dismay.

But then things get even more complicated. When Kershner reports, “The country is bracing for mass Palestinian marches with the potential for bloodshed along the Gaza border and in other areas on Monday to protest the embassy move, among other issues,” she washes over a critical reality. When you have a massive amount of military hardware and sharpshooters lined up facing thousands of unarmed Gazan families and some increasingly angry young men, the “potential” for bloodshed is 100%. Plus the “other issues” really need to be clearly stated. A devasting siege and a flaunting of the international right of return are substantive topics that ground the Palestinian protests in the decades of historical injustices and suffering. Acknowledging this would take us beyond the Israeli Hamas terrorists invading Israel narrative.

Kershner notes, “…some Israelis said the victory helped bolster, even momentarily, a sense of belonging to a small but plucky country that punches above its weight and has outsize influence in the world.” This feeling is threatened by “international grumbling about the 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories and the policies of Israel’s current government, including its campaign to expel African asylum seekers.” The word “grumbling” just stopped me in my tracks. How about major international criticism and concern over the egregious occupation and siege, serious human rights violations, abominable treatment of asylum seekers, detention and imprisonment of Palestinian children, torture in Israeli prisons, lack of drinkable water in Gaza, not to mention basic medications and supplies. “Grumbling” felt like an attempt to minimize what is a dire reality just a few miles from the plucky people celebrating in Tel Aviv.

Kershner also gives a nod to the trauma to Jewish Israelis created by Natalie Portman “taking a stand against ‘violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power.’” Kershner writes of the “bruised feelings” that may be “soothed,” without any commentary about Portman’s actual critique of Israeli society and foreign policy.

Kershner again falls short when she writes that “hundreds of actors, musicians and artists critical of Israeli’s actions against Palestinians have endorsed the so-called B.D.S. movement.”  What’s with the “so-called”? The B.D.S. campaign actually is a growing international movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel until some basic things change around the issues of civil and human rights and international law.  The “so-called” feels like a way to discredit the movement without actually saying anything nasty. Perhaps Kershner should check out https://bdsmovement.net/ if she has further doubts about B.D.S.

I was happy to see her note that 28 member states in the EU have criticized the US decision on the Israeli embassy move to Jerusalem. To be entirely accurate, part of the embassy will actually be on land in the No-man’s-land between East and West Jerusalem. And of course there are the whole unmentioned topics of international law, occupied territory, Palestinian aspirations. Doing this move the day before the commemoration of the Nakba is really another middle finger to Palestinians everywhere, but this is not revealed in the feel good moment of Eurovision.

I understand that, much like the US, it is hard for the average man, woman, or screaming teenager on the Israeli street to remember all of this and the Likud party is “soaring in the polls.” With the death of the Iran deal and the move to Jerusalem in the same month, the hawks in Israel are reveling in their long-sought victories. A week ago, Netanyahu spent ten hours celebrating with his pal, Vladimir Putin.   The fact that the world is now a more dangerous and unstable place is not even alluded to.

So what is a good journalist to do? Kershner is clearly trying to be “unbiased” but her choice of language and her unwillingness to poke below the surface on many issues is painfully revealing.  I suggest that sometimes the right thing to do is to call out and report on the injustices and blindness, or as Portman said, the violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power in Israel, particularly when it is staring you in the face.

Alice Rothchild
About Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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7 Responses

  1. Boomer
    Boomer
    May 16, 2018, 1:11 pm

    Speaking of “drama” around “stolen Iranian nuclear archives,” what about stolen U.S. nuclear fuel? There’s never been an appropriate amount of recognition, much less drama, about that. Ironic how the proliferator and beneficiary of the proliferation complain so much about others. Projection?

    https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/nuclear-vault/2016-11-02/numec-affair-did-highly-enriched-uranium-us-aid-israels

    • Boomer
      Boomer
      May 16, 2018, 4:04 pm

      PS: Before introducing a tangent, I should have acknowledged your excellent commentary: perceptive and (alas) very much on point.

  2. Kaisa of Finland
    Kaisa of Finland
    May 16, 2018, 7:18 pm

    “that this was a Eurovision Song Contest and that Israel is somehow an honorary member (since 1973) along with Australia, perhaps a nod to other (white) settler colonial states born of European imperialism and colonialism..”

    “Fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since it started in 1956.. .. The contest, organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), is held annually between members of the Union. Broadcasters from different countries submit songs to the event, and cast votes to determine the most popular in the competition.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_in_the_Eurovision_Song_Contest

    So among these 52 countires there are fex. all of the ex-Soviet states, Turkey (which if I remember correctly has not attended since Erdogans time) also Morocco has been in, so please leave this “white settler colonialist crap” out of it. (Also see the list of all of the 52 countries in the link.)

    The idea of the contest has been to connect ordinary people through music, like both Russia and Ukraine attending the contest at the same time eventhough they are in a war against each other.

    There is already discussion around the Europe of possibly boycotting the event next year, but in my opinion people should go there and see what it is. Specially if it is held in Jerusalem, it will be a good possibility to spread knowledge of the reality of the Palestinians.

  3. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    May 17, 2018, 8:09 am

    I am a big ESC fan and watch it every year. I already feared that a victory of Israel would be misconstrued as European support for Israel’s crimes. In reality, Israel won because (sadly) the song is very catchy and the performance is the right amount of crazy. What also upsets me is that Israel exploited the Me Too movement to gain a victory at the song contest. So, an unjust state misuses a just campaign for its own ends.
    I voted for Cyprus (my favourite) multiple times in order to prevent an Israeli victory.

  4. Mayhem
    Mayhem
    May 18, 2018, 9:10 pm

    BDS activists and organizations had been active across social media platforms in the runup to the Eurovision with efforts to convince the voting countries not to support Barzilai in protest of the occupation and Israel’s alleged violations of human rights.

    In pro-Israel Twitter parlance, Barzilai’s victory – and their defeat – was a major #BDSFail. To make it sweeter, it came on the heels of Israel’s hosting of the Giro D’Italia bicycle race which featured participants from around the world, including teams representing the Gulf States.

    BDS is clearly losing the battle but BDSers won’t admit it.

    • echinococcus
      echinococcus
      May 18, 2018, 10:31 pm

      Mayhem

      Still thinks occupied Palestine is in Italy and in Europe.
      Any schoolkid, even perhaps if American, knows better.

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