Ukraine’s Eurovision win shows how racist Europeans are

eurovision 2022
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On Saturday 14 May, Ukraine celebrated its Eurovision Song Contest victory. A day later, Palestinians around the world mourned the 74th anniversary of the Nakba, when Zionist forces ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their land, and the state of Israel was declared.

The people of Europe (as well as Israel and Australia) politically voted for Ukraine to win Eurovision. Yes, Ukraine’s song was catchy, but would it have won if there wasn’t outrage over Russia’s bombing of the country? Very unlikely.

So, what’s this got to do with the Palestinian Nakba? Well, everything, actually.

Celebrating Apartheid Israel

In 2018, people around the world voted for Israel’s Netta Barzilai to win Eurovision. There was no Europe-wide outrage for the bombed Palestinians of Gaza, or for those in the West Bank murdered in cold blood by the Israeli occupation forces. In fact, quite the opposite happened: Europe decided to celebrate Israel.

The win meant that Israel hosted the contest in 2019. This gave the Israeli state a key opportunity to pinkwash its actions in Palestine.

Palestinians and their supporters called for an international boycott of Eurovision that year. And they urged musicians – including Madonna – to pull out from performing. Celebrities wrote an open letter, declaring:

We, the undersigned artists from Europe and beyond, support the heartfelt appeal from Palestinian artists to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 hosted by Israel. Until Palestinians can enjoy freedom, justice and equal rights, there should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights.

Read on...

Of course, there was backlash around the world. Prominent people in the entertainment industry, such as Stephen Fry and Simon Callow, even signed a letter in support of holding Eurovision in Israel. The letter declared that “music is our shared language”. Ironic, then, that Russia was disqualified from Eurovision 2022.

The 2019 event went ahead largely unaffected, and those who knew of Israel’s war crimes conveniently looked the other way (in the name of popular culture, of course).

Since 1973 – the year that Israel joined the contest – there has never been an all-out ban on the country participating. Not even after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008, in which it murdered around 1,400 Palestinians. And not after 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, which saw tens of thousands fleeing their homes. In fact, Israel hosted Eurovision 2019 at the same time as its depraved snipers were gunning down Palestinians who were protesting in the Great March of Return.

Racist Europe

When it comes to which war victims we deem worthy of our support, Eurovision 2022 showed our clear bias. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Ukraine winning the contest. But I struggle with the racism of Eurovision’s voters – many of whom won’t actually be conscious that they’re being racist – when they support Ukraine while also celebrating Apartheid Israel in the competition.

As the European public puts Ukrainian flags in the windows of our houses, we consistently ignore not just the murdering of Palestinians but also the killing of Kurdish people by the Turkish state. We ignore the Yemeni people bombed by Saudi Arabia with weapons from Britain; and the decades-long suffering of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, largely caused by UK government intervention. If we care about all victims of war, and if we care about peace, why aren’t we flying the Yemen flag, too? Or the Palestine flag?

Eurovision viewers will likely support sanctions against Russia, too. But where is the support for the Palestinians who having been calling for international boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli state since 2005? Their calls have largely been ignored around the world.

Now it would be all too easy to argue that this isn’t the fault of the general public, that we are all influenced by of our governments’ policies – depicting Israel as a victim rather than an aggressor, for example – and by our mainstream media’s depictions of war. This is true, to an extent. We are all influenced by what we read and what we’re told.

But this isn’t the full picture. We need to reflect on why, as white people, we see Ukrainian victims of war as more worthy. Why are we more touched when it is white people being bombed? Why do we campaign hard for Ukrainian refugees to be welcomed with open arms, but barely bat an eyelid when brown refugees drown in the English Channel?

Are there racist stereotypes in our heads that categorise some people as ‘worthy’ victims of war and others as ‘unworthy’?

Reflect on the racism inside us

Even if it makes us uncomfortable, let’s reflect on the racism that plays out in all of us who were born with white privilege. Author Austin Channing Brown said:

White people desperately want to believe that only the lonely, isolated ‘whites only’ club members are racist. This is why the word ‘racist’ offends ‘nice white people’ so deeply. It challenges their self-identification as good people. Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful.

It is essential for all of us to truly analyse this within ourselves. Because the impact of our racism goes on to affect generations after us. You might not see it as such, but the apathy we show towards the people of Palestine is not just a lack of interest: it is an act of racism. If you’re outspoken about Ukraine but silent about an Israeli soldier shooting dead a child in the West Bank, while knowing that this is happening, then you’re being racist. It’s time for all of us to really look at how we’re deeply conditioned by systems built on white supremacy, and to support each other to rid our minds of racism.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Think people just recognise at the moment that Ukraine is subject to butchery and brutality, rape of women, mass executions of innocent civilians on a scale that has not been seen in Europe since Hitler’s murderous regime. You seem to have lost sight of that. Many Europeans also feel strongly about the suffering of Palestinians. They’re not mutually exclusive.
      Not that many people watch Eurovision either so it’s not the greatest poll base. Probably also watched more by the working class populations of Europe, so you are putting the boot into the social class of people the Canary pretends to care about.

        1. Strange that it is ONLY the Ukraine war which has casualties. It seems that no other wars used actual real bombs and bullets and how startlingly odd that no other wars created hordes of refugees!
          Yemen?? Where is that? Maybe we “just recognize” ONLY what we are instructed to recognize?

      1. “Think people just recognise at the moment that Ukraine is subject to butchery and brutality, rape of women, mass executions of innocent civilians on a scale that has not been seen in Europe since Hitler’s murderous regime.”

        What about The Balkans conflict? Or don’t Bosnian Muslims count.

    2. i agree with shakehands. but you’re right. israel should feel the same ostracism. however, a very real historical sense of duty and guilt prevents us from judging israel and that creates this awkward and fatal double standard. your article’s accusation about being more accepting of and sympathetic to ukrainian refugees also struck a chord with me, but for all the wrong reasons. i do occasional voluntary work with refugees in my little european country and what i notice is this: women and children and the aged are arriving from ukraine while the men (and many women, as shown in the harrowing winning video) stay to defend their heartland. meanwhile, mostly healthy young men are arriving from syria, iraq, afghanistan and central africa. the sense of being taken for a ride is prevalent here.

    3. As bad as Isreal’s ongoing genocide is, there are qualitative differences between it and the ongoing war in Ukraine that, I think, sufficiently explains the different reactions even without factoring in racism.

      Part of it is simple geography. Isreal is 1,200 kilometres from the nearest EU state, and 3,600 kilometres from the UK. Ukraine is a border nation. A comfortable blanket of distance insulates us from having to think about Isreal’s rocket bombardments of the Gaza, while Russia’s rocket bombardments of Kyiv are right next door.

      Part of it also is a matter of cultural history. For all its flaws and limitations, the EU’s original design and fundamental mission was, and to a great degree remains, to prevent war between European powers as a response to the trauma of WW2. And it worked; we’ve spent generations now in an environment where we were not threatened by war. The only European wars have been expeditionary, to distant places; the Balkans were seen as more of a result of the collapse of Yugoslavia than an actual war between powers, and Georgia 2008 and Ukraine 2014 as dangerous and scary, but somehow not ‘proper’ wars.

      This has to be stressed, two weeks before the invasion began there was still a relatively strong trend of thinking that, “there can’t be war *here*, it’s *Europe*.” Now there’s a constant conversation on whether the war that is right next door to us will escalate to Russia hitting the Instant Sunshine button – and thank all the gods the smart money says no, but it’s a conversation we have to have, where not so long ago the mere idea would have been unthinkable.

      That, ultimately, is the difference. What’s happening in Isreal is terrible, but it’s far away and threatens only our morals, and our commitment to those morals. What’s happening in Ukraine is happening HERE, and potentially heralds a very ugly, very imminent future for us all.

      Bluntly, if you want to talk about racism in the reactions to the Ukraine war, how about the way asian or black refugees from Ukraine (whether Ukrainian PoCs or foreign nationals) have been treated, both by Polish people and authorities supposed to ‘welcome’ the refugees, and by other (white) Ukrainian refugees themselves, and how little the news has reported on that?

      To be blunt, I find it hard to overstress the sheer bloody arrogance it takes to look at a decaying world power ruled by a possibly-deranged dictator with thousands of nukes and borders with five EU countries marching three hundred thousand troops to invade and regime change Poland’s neighbour, dropping artillery within spitting distance of nuclear reactors in the country that gave us Chernobyl while outright threatening nuclear escalation in response to foreign intervention, and to say to this, “you only care so much more about this because you’re racist.”

      People care more about things that happen close to them and threaten them than they care about things from far away that threaten other people. This is unfair, but it is neither complicated or new.

      Was the peace of europe ever truly real? Not really. The Balkans happened, Georgia happened, Russia’s 2014 invasion happened, the expeditionary wars happened. But it was a strongly held idea, a cultural shibboleth, and to see it shattered is a shock to the psyche. The dream of peace in Europe is dead, as we have all been shocked awake by the sound of artillery shells just next door.

    4. Ukrainian street fighter – Hero
      Palestinian street fighter – Terrorist
      That narrative is, and always has been, controlled those who are trying to force the US Empire unipolar hegemony into a reality. And we may all die because of this.
      And all this Ukrainian flag waving by what are often anti-Europe UK folk is pure hypocrisy. The Ukrainians voted Zerlensky in on a “peace with Russia” ticket. The Neo-Nazis threatened to kill him if he carried it out. Biden knew this and did nothing to protect him. Biden and his military industrial complex string pullers want this war more than anything else (including the funding of a Covid vaccine for children).
      We are truly on a road to possible extinction and this god damn song contest is a first world irrelevance that laughs at freedom.

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