Israel’s Eurovision song: an anthem for the Palestinian Great March of Return

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Eurovision, we are told, is an apolitical event. The rules of the competition, laid out on the Eurovision Song Contest’s (ESC) official website states, “ESC is a non-political event. All Participating Broadcasters, including the Host Broadcaster, shall ensure that all necessary steps are undertaken within their respective Delegations and teams in order to make sure that the ESC shall in no case be politicized and/or instrumentalized. […] No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political […] nature shall be permitted during the ESC.”

If there was ever a contestant in whose best interests it was for the “non-political” principle to be maintained religiously, Israel, the host of Eurovision 2019, is just that. With the influential Palestinian call for the cultural boycott now in its second decade and a substantial record of cultural events that have been cancelled following appeals to artists, asserting the apolitical essence of Eurovision is clearly Israel’s best bet for assuring that the festival will proceed undisturbed despite it all. And the protest calls that have been voiced specifically in the context of Eurovision 2019, such as the artists’ appeal to the BBC to press for Eurovision to be moved out of Israel and the Irish petition for Ireland to boycott the event, which has collected over 11,000 signatures, make the host country’s need to stress the “non-political” clause all the more urgent. Add to this the pro-Palestinian sentiments expressed by the members of Hatari, the anti-establishment band that has pledged “to offend the sensibilities of many people” while representing Iceland in the contest, and you are bound to sympathize with the Israeli organizing team – are they sleeping well?

In light of all the pressures the organizers are facing and their understandable desire to ensure that the contest will nonetheless proceed smoothly, the choice of the song that will represent Israel at the Tel Aviv Eurovision is surprising indeed. The song, by Inbar Weitzman and Ohad Shargai, to be performed by Kobi Marimi, is named “Home” – hardly an apolitical title in a land with competing national narratives, and in a state that offers the privilege of “repatriation” to anyone whose second-degree relative happens to be Jewish while simultaneously denying the right of return to Palestinian refugees expelled when Israel was established in 1948.

March 30, 2019 marked the first anniversary of weekly Great March of Return demonstrations in the besieged Gaza Strip. As the name suggests, the demonstrations aim to draw attention to the desire of many Gazan Palestinians (the majority of whom are refugees) to be able to return to their original places of residence – their homes – which they have been denied until now. Israel’s policy since the beginning of the March events has been to routinely – every Friday – fire live ammunition at the unarmed protesters. So far, nearly 200 protesters have been killed and more than 7,000 have been wounded by live ammunition, according the United Nations.

Incidentally (or not), the largest number of casualties to occur on a single day was registered on May 14, 2018, two days after the Israeli singer’s Netta Barzilai victory in Eurovision 2018, which coincided with the U.S. Embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That day, at least 58 unarmed Palestinian protesters (many of whom were later claimed by Hamas to be its members) were shot dead by Israeli soliders from a close distance, and well over a thousand were injured. Astonishingly, despite the enormity of the human tragedy facing Gaza, the choice was made to nonetheless proceed with the plan to hold, on that very same day, a mass public celebration of Netta Barzilai’s Eurovision victory in a large square in Tel Aviv – only a short drive away from Gaza. The ecstatic celebration was attended by some 30,000 Israelis.

So, what do the lyrics of the song chosen to represent Israel in this year’s Eurovision speak about? Here is an excerpt:

“Home was so far, collecting scars, I refuse
Another touch won’t be another bruise
I feel the sun upon my skin
And I am someone, I am someone
You pulled my heart, I took it in
It made me someone, I am someone
I am standing tall not giving in
‘Cause I am someone, I am someone
And now I’m done, I’m coming
Now I’m done, I’m coming
Now I’m done, I’m coming home.”

These lyrics put into words what the Gazan protesters have been communicating through their actions for a whole year now. Tens of thousands have been prepared to risk their lives to assert their identities as refugees wishing to return home. While their right of return has not been granted to them, their narrative does return, unobstructed, in the lyrics of Israel’s Eurovision song. It has managed to find its way into the self-image contemporary Israel wishes to project. “Now I’m done, I’m coming home.” Home onto the Tel Aviv Eurovision stage.

How can we explain a blunder of such magnitude on the part of the Tel Aviv Eurovision team? How come no one noticed? The explanation lies with the fact that it does not occur to most Israelis to think of Palestinians’ actions as interpretable and potentially meaningful. Rather, they are understood as just actions, meaningless at best, irritating at worst: they are throwing themselves onto the fence because Hamas told them to, or because they are crazy, or because they’ll do anything to annoy us. The narrative stimulating these actions, presumed not to exist at all, is unfamiliar and therefore unrecognizable.

In Sigmund Freud’s work, the return of the repressed is the process whereby repressed experiences and thoughts, preserved in the unconscious, tend to reemerge, in consciousness or in behavior, in the shape of more or less unrecognizable “derivatives of the unconscious.” Slips of the tongue and symptomatic actions are both examples of such derivatives.

The repressed does not need a permit in order to be able to return, nor does the dissociated. The unconscious returns because its right of return is inalienable. What shall we do about its returns? What kind of innovative weapons will it take to kill it off once and for all?

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As far as psychological explanations go, I think pathological narcissism does a better job accounting for Israel’s approval of these lyrics than repression does.

After all, a narrative about exile, maltreatment, and at long last a return home where one can finally realize her true identity can refer only to the Jewish experience, right?

“Add to this the pro-Palestinian sentiments expressed by the members of Hatari, the anti-establishment band that has pledged “to offend the sensibilities of many people” while representing Ireland” before anyone notices Hatari Iceland according to google funny name for an irish band, not that that means anything, if you get in there now, its only one letter, no one will be any the wiser.

There’s another article in this edition of Mondoweiss (written by Helena Cobban) that expresses that very rare moment in which it is allowed to express criticism vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The Palestinian signing of the Oslo Accords bothers the anti-Israel crowd so much that criticism of the Palestinians in this regard can be tolerated without protest (and without being accused of being a “Zionist” or a lowly “hasbarist”). Helena Cobban tells us that the PLO’s signing… Read more »

Eurovision, we are told, is an apolitical event.

Not everyone agrees.

Slovo will be skipping the party –

@Nathan “There’s another article in this edition of Mondoweiss (written by Helena Cobban) that expresses that very rare moment in which it is allowed to express criticism vis-a-vis the Palestinians.” “That very rare moment”. WTF are you talking about. I for one have been consistently “critical” to put it mildly of the revolting Vichy PA leaders and I think that with some research you will find that my views have been mirrored by other MW… Read more »