I love Eurovision, but Jerusalem 2019 will be no cause for celebration | Michael Segalov

Israeli winner Netta declaring Jerusalem the next host city struck more than a note of discord, especially after this week’s bloodshed

It wasn’t immediately obvious to me why I felt a sudden sense of discomfort just before midnight on Saturday. Standing in a packed-out square in Lisbon with thousands of others, I was watching the Eurovision final on a giant screen, the results from the night slowly rolling in. Having spent the preceding week with the UK’s contestant, SuRie, initially I thought I was just gutted for her after a wash of low scores and a stage invasion. But looking around, as Netta, the Israeli entry, took to the stage, overjoyed and victorious – the Israeli flags being waved all around me suddenly took on a more sinister tone.

Eurovision is traditionally held in the country that won the previous year, and when Netta gave her short acceptance speech, she made it clear: “Next year in Jerusalem.” Whether this was an off-the-cuff remark, or high command decision being communicated to the world, really doesn’t matter. It seems that, despite Tel Aviv being the country’s cultural capital and queer-friendly city, it would be in the disputed city of Jerusalem that next year’s event will be held. On the day of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), the optics of this was no accident. This controversial day in the Israeli calendar marks the date that the whole of Jerusalem was brought under Israeli rule. To others, it marks the further ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. Now it will be the host of the world’s largest live music competition – it makes the light-hearted event feel a little more dark.

It didn’t take long for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to attach his name to the victory: “You know what we say: Those who didn’t want Jerusalem in the #Eurovision are going to get the Eurovision in Jerusalem,” he tweeted, in a series of posts praising Trump and celebrating the controversial move of the US embassy on Monday from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. All the while his government continues to oversee the displacement of Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes.

Having spent the last week in Lisbon immersed in Eurovision culture, there was a sentiment I heard repeated over and over again. From the organising team to the fans, and each nation’s artists – Eurovision is about unity. “It’s not about divisive politics” was very much the line. But whether its organisers like it or not, if held in Jerusalem next year’s event will be political. Netanyahu has already made sure of that. In the Eurovision arena, there was booing in abundance during the Russian performance, and the displeased crescendo became even louder as the scores from Moscow were broadcast live. Such outrage must also be evident next year – LGBTQ+ lives are no more valuable than those of other oppressed minorities.

Will we also be subjected to a dose of pink-washing, employed to distract onlookers from the oppression routinely dished out by the Israeli state? Israel may have a better record on LGBTQ+ rights than some of its neighbours (lesbian and gay people can be conscripted into the military, although same-sex marriages are still not conducted in the country) – but that doesn’t negate the human rights abuses the government regularly dishes out. Many Eurovision lovers affectionately refer to the competition as “Gay Christmas”, but if anyone makes a pilgrimage to the holy land next year, an effort must be made by all to ensure a visible LGBTQ+ presence is not co-opted.

As the world watches on as the bullets rain down in Gaza, those preparing to book flights for Eurovision’s 2019 instalment should also consider how the event will materially affect Palestinians on the ground. Time and time again we see how Palestinians are punished, the Israeli Defence Force keen to flex its lethal military muscle on days that are seen as significant, or when Palestinian-led protests are planned.

When international events come to most European countries where there are sites of dissent and protest, there’s an expectation – quite rightly – that campaigners will have their basic human rights upheld. On Monday, 58 Palestinians were killed for demonstrating, and no doubt there will be further protests planned to coincide with Eurovision next year. I’ll be honest, I felt a sense of discomfort at Eurovision in general – flags and deep-rooted patriotism really isn’t my bag, even when it’s surrounded by camp culture and catchy pop songs. In Jerusalem next year, these symbols will be of increased significance. The 180 million viewers, who will watch those rose-tinted tourist board promo clips in between each act will no doubt be saved from images of repression in East Jerusalem and Gaza. Eurovision is ultimately about unity and cooperation. If, next year, this doesn’t extend to Palestinians in Israel, the lands it occupies and Palestinian territories, then those of us who adore this annual celebration must express our discontent.

• Michael Segalov is the news editor at Huck magazine and a freelance journalist


Michael Segalov

The GuardianTramp

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