Non Binaries and Anti‑Zionists. Eurovision Song Contest 2024

Joseph Healy argues that the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest was overshadowed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading to calls for boycotts and revealing the impossibility of separating music and politics in the face of human rights abuses.

 

Having just returned from Ireland where there was enormous excitement around Eurovision, the event has turned out to be a huge drama with its own heroes and villains, almost like the type of melodrama liked by many, including myself, in the queer community. Firstly, it has to be understood that for many in the LGBTQ community, Eurovision is our equivalent of Xmas. The whole huge camp mess is watched avidly by queers across Europe and huge parties are usually held to celebrate it in our gathering places like the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, complete with drag queens, balloons and hits from earlier incarnations of the event. Olly Alexander and his homoerotic boxers provided the eye candy which many queer viewers anticipate in this year’s event.

However, this year was like no other in the contest’s history. The spectre of the genocide in Gaza loomed over Malmo and especially the participation of the perpetrator, Israel, in the contest. Calls to boycott the event were issued as long ago as March by not only Palestinian and human rights activists but also by many queer activists, such as Peter Tatchell and others. In Ireland, the non-binary singer, Bambie Thug, who is resident in London was called on by many to boycott the event. Ireland is a very pro-Palestinian country and the call was echoed by many in the Irish queer community. Bambie wrestled with their conscience and continually told Irish broadcasters that they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians but could not withdraw from the contest as there were too many expectations around her act. Bambie went so far as to put pro-Palestinian slogans on their costume in Ogham, the ancient Irish script but this was noticed by the gnomes of the European Broadcasting Union, who banned it.

“Calls to boycott the event were issued as long ago as March by not only Palestinian and human rights activists but also by many queer activists, such as Peter Tatchell and others.”

The EBU emerged as the villain of the piece, refusing point blank to force out Israel from the contest, despite having done this with Russia two years ago on similar grounds. They also banned any Palestinian flags from the arena while allowing Israeli ones to be waved. This created huge tension among the fans and the Israeli entry was widely booed during the first dress rehearsal. Tensions increased when Bambie Thug made it through in the first semifinal, which was the first time that Ireland had made it through to the final for 6 years. Eurovision has always been important in Ireland and is seen as an arena where the country can project a positive image of itself as a land of music and song. Bambie’s victory created huge excitement in Ireland but the pall of Gaza was still there.

“The EBU emerged as the villain of the piece, refusing point blank to force out Israel from the contest, despite having done this with Russia two years ago on similar grounds.”

In Ireland, Panti Bliss, a radical drag queen, who owns two major queer bars in Dublin, and is regarded by many as the conscience of the queer community, announced that Eurovision would not be shown in her pubs and called on Bambie and others to withdraw. Going even further, they decided to host an alternative Eurovision event in Galway to which those, lacking a Eurovision party, could go. My partner and I after watching the contest religiously for 25 years boycotted it in response to the Israeli entry.

In the interim, Bambie began to ramp up the rhetoric against Israel and refused to take part in the stage ceremony where the flags were flown, while being involved in an altercation with Israeli journalists behind the scenes and claimed that they was being targeted by them. They also made a point of forming a sort of alliance between non-binary performers, one of whom was the final winner from Switzerland, Nemo. Watching all of this writhing and twisting, while being caught in the net of collaboration was painful. Olly Alexander from the UK didn’t go as far, giving an appalling interview where he said that he needed to “get his music out there”.

On the night, many queer venues across Britain and Ireland boycotted the event and according to figures released in the UK, the viewing numbers were down by 25%. Switzerland won but it was interesting that the UK public vote gave its maximum points to Israel and Ireland gave its second highest score to them. Does this mean that the UK and Ireland are firmly in the Zionist camp? I don’t think so as polls consistently point to opposition to Israel and its war crimes.

“The attempt to isolate music and culture from politics has failed miserably and put the spotlight on those for whom their musical careers were more important than the first major genocide of the 21st century.”

Bambie Thug continues to protest about the behaviour of the Israelis at the contest but despite claiming that the non-binaries have won and other deflections, they, along with all the artists who participated in the contest have really damaged their reputations and have appeared mercenary and grasping. The attempt to isolate music and culture from politics has failed miserably and put the spotlight on those for whom their musical careers were more important than the first major genocide of the 21st century. The only positive development has been that pink washing and confronting the queer community with collaboration with mass murder has been put centre stage and it’s now impossible to ignore the contradictions. As Abba sang at Eurovision 50 years ago this year neatly summing up the position of the EBU:

“Money money money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world”

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Joseph Healy is a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

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