This year’s Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Tel Aviv. The popular music event could be a great propaganda opportunity for Europe’s last colony. Israel’s latest efforts to promote itself, however, reveal, once again, its convulsive struggle for legitimacy. Government-funded Hasbara continues to recycle the same colonial myths, trying to conceal settler-colonial inscription and indigenous erasure behind colorful pictures of sun, sea, rainbow flags, and shawarma.
In an obvious attempt to advertise the Eurovision Song Contest and to promote Israel as a tourist destination, Israeli public broadcaster KAN published a video on social media.
📺 This is the land of honey, honey!
Let Lucy and Elia take you in a musical journey throughout the most important parts of Israel. We promise you won't regret it! 👇👇👇 pic.twitter.com/djQlNXPoDe
— KAN Eurovision Israel (@kaneurovision) May 10, 2019
The clip is sadly emblematic of Israel’s broader approach towards Western audiences. It shows Lucy Ayoub, one of the Eurovision hosts, and Elia Grinfeld, a KAN employee, singing and dancing, desperately trying to catch the attention of two seemingly skeptical white European tourists. Lucy and Elia lead the two tourists into a theater, forcing them to “join this quick indoctrination,” so that they could help them “have a great vacation.” That moment could potentially imply that the video’s creators are aware of how exhausting the ridiculous character of Hasbara can be to the outside world.
“I know just what you heard, that it’s a land of war and occupation,” Elia declares. “But we have so much more than that,” Lucy adds. Reflecting the Israeli government’s practice of physically perpetuating war and occupation while discursively trying to hide these policies, the video audio-visually supersedes Palestinian realities by Zionist comfort.
What follows is a recycling of familiar Hasbara talking points of “a small country with big pride” and of the high-tech “startup nation.” The horror of racist hierarchies is concealed, as Israel is presented as a multiethnic mosaic. Lucy, the daughter of a Jewish Israeli mother and a Christian Palestinian father, uses her “Arab” origins to whitewash Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians, proclaiming “I’m Arab, yes some of us live here,” not mentioning that most of them were expelled. When Elia adds that he escaped from Russia, Israel appears as a refuge for persecuted minorities. After all, as Lucy and Elia propagate, Israel is “the land of honey,” “the land of milk,” and “always sunny.”
No Israeli propaganda would be complete without pinkwashing, i.e. Israel’s rhetorical concealing of settler-colonial violence behind the self-glorification of its alleged progress on LGBT+ rights.
In general, Hasbara is keen on displaying a token couple of gay men kissing in public, in order to make its audiences think that it is inclusive of minorities and, simultaneously, to portray Arabs and Muslims as inherently homophobic. (This is in line with the Orientalist trope that Palestinians would not deserve freedom because Hamas was killing gays.) It is thus only predictable that in KAN’s video, two men are showing public affection in front of a rainbow flag in Tel Aviv. Elia sings that “gays are hugging in the street,” in case this was not obvious. Israel’s practice of pinkwashing appears highly homophobic. As LGBT+ populations are fighting for equal rights and as they are still persecuted in many parts of this world, it is offensive, to say the least, to exhibit gays and use them as a cover for the persecution of Palestinians. Israel’s strategic targeting of non-heterosexual Palestinians has also been well-documented.
The video also includes anti-Semitic stereotypes: “Most of us are Jews, but only some of us are greedy.” It applies misogyny to degrade women, when Elia asks the tourists to “enjoy our lovey bitches” rather than beaches.
The video promotes the colonial theft of Palestinian cuisine, culture, history, and geography. The viewer is told that there is “good shawarma” all over Israel, and the Dead Sea becomes Israeli in an Orientalist playground, as Lucy is sitting on a camel covered in colorful cloths.
Jerusalem is declared as “our beloved capital,” which, as the viewer learns, is home to Yad Vashem and the holy sites. Lucy and Elia walk through the Old City, which has been under illegal occupation for over half a century. Eventually, as Lucy and Elia are dancing and telling the viewers “We’re waiting for you,” Elia is wearing a shirt that says “I love Iron Dome,” in support of Israel’s military-industrial complex.
It is as if Palestinians and Palestine never existed. Not only are they not mentioned even once. Their history and culture are replaced by the fragile narrative of the settler community which is based on a genocidal exclusivity.
This goal of indoctrinating foreigners with colonial myths is also central to a website that was set up by the Israeli government. Titled boycotteurovision.net, the page is an obvious attempt to target supporters of the BDS movement. Describing Israel as “Beautiful. Diverse. Sensational” (BDS), the site consists of propaganda texts and videos, including pictures of a gay couple, Jerusalem’s holy shrines, and white tourists. Like a poetic travel guide, the page romanticizes Israel into a “breathtaking country,” that is “offering magnificent views, golden beaches, green landscapes, vast deserts, snowy mountaintops and vibrant cities nestled between thousands of years’ worth of extraordinary historical and cultural sites.”
The reader further learns that “[i]n Israel, all people; Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, religious and secular, as well as LGBTQ reside together in a bastion of coexistence in the heart of the Middle East.” The reality, however, is apartheid and a structural oppression of Muslim and Christian Palestinians, Jewish and non-Jewish People of Color, and political dissidents regardless of ethno-national or religious identification. This has nothing to do with coexistence.
The “bastion” of peace or coexistence is a typical Orientalist myth that exploits Western beliefs in a cultural inferiority of Islamic and Arab civilizations. In the trope of an allegedly dangerous Middle East, Israel, as a European colony, serves as the symbol of a perpetually threatened freedom that needs to be guarded.
The website also employs the Orientalist myth of Israel “making the desert bloom and turning it into an oasis of tolerance.” This Zionist talking point not only ignores the historical presence of Palestinians. In completely denying Palestinian existence, the fantasy of an empty desert has served as a major justification for the colonization of Palestine.
The website’s rewriting of Palestinian history includes the claim that “Israel has absorbed more immigrants than any other country, in its short history, with newcomers from more than 100 countries.” The Nakba, the destruction of Palestinian villages, and the violent expulsion of the majority of its population, remain absent. Instead, the reader is told that “[l]ife in Israel is innovative, while at the same time, still connected to its rich history. Israel is a destination filled with warmth, openness, and love that will leave everyone who visits with memories (and friends!) to last a lifetime.”
This does, of course, not apply to the millions of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora, internally displaced Palestinians in Gaza, or Palestinians in the West Bank who are not allowed to return to the territory they were expelled from in 1948, as Israel continues to violate numerous UN resolutions.
Israel’s propaganda efforts around Eurovision are part and parcel of its discursive erasure of everything Palestinian. And while the word “Palestine” is not uttered in any of the colorful videos and pictures ever, the hyperbolic language, the need to verbalize the simplest things and to literally beg tourists to visit, reveals that there is something uncanny behind the colorful Hasbara façade.
Eurovision is a mere example of how Israel is desperately trying to gain legitimacy through a stubborn insistence on old myths and the almost comical exhaustion of the same talking points. Because Zionism is a modern colonial movement that is incompatible with universal human rights and international law, and because Israel does not have any moral or legal justification for the colonization of Palestine and for the genocidal maltreatment of Palestinians, the Israeli regime will continue to desperately necessitate absurd propaganda in its efforts to narrate to the outside world, and probably to itself, a modified version of history, trying to prove that it has some sort of legitimacy.