Brian Eno: Israel must not be allowed to use Eurovision as a propaganda tool

Brian Eno’s op-ed is published in today’s Guardian, and copied below.

“Those of us who make art and culture for a living thrive on free and open communication. So what should we do when we see culture becoming part of a political agenda? “Music unites,” says UK Eurovision entrant Michael Rice. What happens when a powerful state uses art as propaganda, to distract from its immoral and illegal behaviour? Everybody involved in the Eurovision song contest this year should understand that this is what is happening.

European broadcasters, including the BBC, are pushing ahead with plans to hold the contest in Tel Aviv this May, as if broadcasting a hugely expensive entertainment spectacle from an actively repressive apartheid-like state is no problem at all. Eurovision, says the European Broadcasting Union, is a “nonpolitical” event. It’s impossible to reconcile what the EBU is saying with reality. Israel is a state that sees culture as a political instrument: its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, praised Netta Barzilai, Israel’s 2018 Eurovision winner, as someone who has done “exceptional foreign relations work”.

Then there’s Israel’s war against the Palestinians and their culture. In March and April last year, Israel’s snipers targeted and killed journalists who were filming the peaceful protests in Gaza. In August its F16 jets destroyed the Said al-Mishal Centre in Gaza, a place of music, theatre and dance. Palestinian artists, actors and musicians are routinely denied permission to travel by the Israeli occupation authorities, or, as in the case of the poet Dareen Tatour, imprisoned for “inciting terrorism”. Meanwhile the Israeli culture minister accuses dissident Israeli cultural organisations of subversion, and threatens to cut funding unless they modify their programmes to suit government tastes. In 2017, for instance, the Acre theatre festival withdrew a play about Palestinian prisoners of Israel rather than face the minister’s financial revenge; since then galleries and film festivals have been similarly menaced.

These threats to cultural production are part of a wider pattern that undermines the claim that Eurovision 2019 will embody values of inclusion, diversity and friendship. The EBU’s code of ethics promotes Eurovision  as a safe space, where “human rights, freedom of expression, democracy, cultural diversity, tolerance and solidarity” can thrive. If that is really the intention, having Israel as the host is absurd: the briefest inquiry would show broadcasters that these principles had long been abandoned there.

Reporters Without Borders notes that Israeli journalists are subject to “military censorship” – gag orders. And as for “inclusion” – Israel’s myriad restrictions on the movement of Palestinians will ensure that almost all of them are excluded from the Eurovision festivities.

Last year Israel’s acclaimed theatre actor-director, Itay Tiran, was moved to urge international support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, called for by Palestinian civil society; and tens of thousands of people across Europe, fans and musicians, have signalled that they will be campaigning to disengage their countries from the events in Tel Aviv. I understand Rice’s joy at being selected as Britain’s Eurovision representative. But when he believes “it’s not my place to say” whether Israeli treatment of the Palestinians means Eurovision should be relocated, I think he’s underestimating his power. He could help to ensure that Eurovision 2019 will be remembered as an occasion of principled protest, not another episode of cultural whitewashing.”

• Brian Eno is a musician, composer, producer and visual artist. He is a supporter of Artists for Palestine UK


@LondonPalestine’s brilliant cover of Bucks Fizz’s 1981 Eurovision-winning song “Making Your Mind Up”, in support of the Palestinian call to #BoycottEurovision2019.