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If Madonna really wanted to support Palestinian children, she’d cancel her Eurovision performance in Tel Aviv

Many of the kids she previously spoke up for will now be teenagers. With the return of Benjamin Netanyahu for a fifth term, their fates will again be determined by a state that does not care about them

Hilary Aked
Wednesday 10 April 2019 13:05 BST
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Eurovision: Twenty-eight participants start their promo tour in Amsterdam with Eurovision In Concert

Even superstars like Madonna are human. And she has not remained oblivious to the suffering Israel inflicts on Palestinians in Gaza.

But it seems when it came to agreeing to support an event that many see as a threat to the wellbeing of Palestinians, she may not have thought through the implications.

In summer 2014, during one of several intense episodes of Israeli state violence in recent years, the Queen of Pop tweeted that “no-one” had a right to “destroy” the lives of “the innocent children of Gaza”. While bombs rained down on the illegally besieged Gaza Strip, she called for “CEASE FIRE”.

Palestinians – who call for a global boycott of Israel to hold it accountable for its violations of international law and human rights – might therefore have hoped Madonna’s 2012 performance in Israel would be her last.

However, rumours swirling since January that Madonna will perform at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv next month were confirmed on Monday by the European Broadcasting Union.

And despite the repeated refrain from some quarters that holding Eurovision in Israel is “not political”, the Canadian-Israeli billionaire footing the bill for the $1m performance has made no secret of the political purpose behind securing Madonna.

There have been loud calls for a cultural boycott of Eurovision 2019, including from over 100 LGBT+ groups, hundreds of international artists (including 20 Israeli performers and the 1994 Eurovision winner) and a petition signed by 100,000 people.

But ignoring the systematic atrocities against Palestinians which prompt such boycott calls, the aforementioned Canadian-Israeli businessman, Sylvan Adams, attributes the “steady drumbeat of negative news” about Israel to “the density of journalists” in the region.

Moreover, he describes himself as a “self-appointed ambassador at large for Israel” and believes that when the county hosts major international events like Eurovision, they offer “a boost for its image”.

Described as “one of Israel's most enthusiastic philanthropists and donors”, Adams previously brought the Giro D'Italia bicycle race to Israel for $80m in 2018 and reportedly feels that buying Madonna’s participation will boost awareness of the “beauty of the state of Israel”.

If this wasn’t transparently propagandist enough, Adams’ close associate Dani Ben Naim told Israeli Army Radio explicitly that the businessman “wants to help the state of Israel with its foreign relations”.

Indeed, Adams has even held talks with the Israeli government about establishing a permanent foundation to fund and organise similar mega-events for PR purposes.

From Israel’s perspective then, Madonna is a great coup.

As a longstanding gay icon and ally, she appeals to Eurovision’s LGBT+ fanbase and fits in neatly with the pinkwashing marketing strategy being deployed around the event, a key plank of the government’s official “Brand Israel” campaign which aims to distract attention from its human rights abuses.

What seems confused, is Madonna’s position. In the past, she has spoken about the importance of supporting “human dignity and respect” while reminding people that “the children of Gaza need our support!”. But working with Israel furthers none of those causes.

Many of the children she previously spoke up for will now be teenagers. They’ll likely have participated in the weekly Great Return March protests which just marked their one-year anniversary.

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Perhaps some were even among those (including children, medics and journalists) who, according to a UN report released in February, Israel deliberately shot during its brutal repression of these demonstrations.

All of them will undoubtedly be suffering the effects of the humanitarian crisis engineered by Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Palestinians outside of Gaza – including children – also face daily violence, home demolitions and imprisonment without trial, on top of ongoing exclusion from the homeland from which they were ethnically cleansed.

And just yesterday, voters cast their ballots to re-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, after he pledged to annex the occupied West Bank.

As Israel’s prime minister for a fifth-term, he will lead a far-right government which also determines the fate of millions of Palestinians who had no right to vote at all – encapsulating the reason Israel is called an “apartheid” state.

Madonna's Eurovision appearance will celebrated by the Israeli government and its supporters. But supporters of the Palestinian campaign for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions are already calling on her to follow the example of Lauryn Hill, Lana Del Rey and Lorde and cancel her Israel gig. It would be a meaningful act of care for children in Gaza if she did.

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