It is surprising that the Eurovision Song Contest, a festival of high-camp commercialism, should have become a focus of political interest. For some of the participating countries the contest has pushed the boundaries of gender politics.
The contest was won in 1998 by the transgender Israeli singer Dana International and in 2014 by the genderqueer Austrian Conchita Wurst, perhaps best described as a drag queen with a beard.
Much other controversy around the competition has focused on Russia which has twice invaded other countries in the competition. After Russia’s annexation a region in Georgia in 2007, Georgia was excluded from the contest after refusing to withdraw its entry “We Don’t Wanna Put In”. In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in 2016 Ukraine’s entry was 1944, a song about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin with obvious parallels. The song won.
For the British SWP, it is Israel’s presence in the competition that is the issue. Israel won the 2018 competition and thus the right to host the 2019 competition. In an article in Socialist Worker of 15 May, they argue there should be a “cultural boycott” of the Israeli hosting of the contest.
The article is scatter-gun in its approach. It makes a questionable accusation of racism against Israeli winner, Netta Barzilai, for wearing a Kimono and performing in front of cabinet of Maneki-neko waving cats in an alleged act of cultural appropriation.
The SWP never say who should implement the boycott. The contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union, which could reasonably be seen an international instrument of the ruling class. Does the SWP think they should take the lead?
There is certainly a precedent for this. After years of the Anti-Apartheid movement calling for a boycott of South Africa, economic sanctions were imposed by western governments after 1986. The AWL’s forerunners promoted links with the South African workers’ movement and insisting that boycotts were only acceptable under the control of that movement. The failure to build on the strength of South Africa’s workers’ movement under apartheid can be seen in South Africa today.
More particularly, the cultural boycott was used to attack those who sought to build links with black South Africans, the most high profile victim being Paul Simon attacked for working with black South African musicians on his 1986 ‘Graceland’.
At the heart of the SWP’s position is that Israel is a uniquely bad state. They say it is “the apartheid state”. No-one should deny the crimes of the current and previous, Israeli governments. But the SWP view of Israel goes far beyond this, seeing it not as a country with a right-wing government which we should oppose but a uniquely and existentially illegitimate state that can neither be neither reformed nor overthrown by its own working class. In the SWP’s view it can only be destroyed by external force.
Thus the boycott is propaganda to demonise Israel and to call for its destruction.
Here we find the SWP’s agency, they explicitly support Islamist forces such as Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel, which in order to do so would have to act with the support of a powerful ally, most likely Iran.
The SWP suggest such forces could create (by military force) a single state of Arabs and Jews living side-by-side, but it is hard to see it leading to anything other than a blood bath.
Instead of making facile propaganda around Eurovision socialists should throw their weight to link with those Israelis and Palestinians who seek a just settlement based on mutual recognition of national rights and particularly on a working class movement that could carry this policy.
The SWP offer the opposite of such a socialist, working-class and democratic politics.