Eurovision and the Zionist Dream

While relatively few Americans have heard of, let alone paid attention to, the annual Eurovision song contest, for Europeans, as well as many Middle Easterners, it is a major annual event—a sort of international musical Super Bowl. Since Israel’s contestant won the 2018 competition, this year’s, which began yesterday, is taking place in Tel Aviv. Shayna Weiss explains why hosting the event is a matter of national pride to Israelis:

Cynics criticize the festival as a cheesy competition with bad music and outrageous costumes and mock its naïve sentimentality. But not taking Eurovision seriously or ignoring it altogether means ignoring the power of cultural politics and performance. Eurovision is a deeply political activity disguised as a campy contest that hopes to transcend those very politics. For Israel, being part of Eurovision is a potent way of asserting its identity as a member of the community of nations. It’s a reflection of the classic Zionist idea of normalization, of creating a Jewish country that is a country like any other. Winning Eurovision and hosting Eurovision send the message that Israel is important in the cultural realm, that it is on the map for something other than the conflict with the Palestinians.

The contest offers an opportunity for Israel to advertise to the world the kind of country it wants to be, a musical message to be broadcast in three minutes or less. As the host country, Israel also has the opportunity to convince viewers to visit and spend their tourist dollars there—or at the very least to have a slightly more favorable view of the country. . . .

Like any Eurovision host city, Tel Aviv will advertise an idealized version of itself. [Unsurprisingly], various BDS efforts pushed contestants not to participate this year. Despite the pressure, no countries dropped out, though the Icelandic techno band Hatari has been vocal in its opposition to Israel. In an interview, the band indicated that being kicked out for its criticism of Israel would be the best outcome, but if it can adhere to the rules and remain apolitical on stage, it has a chance of winning. . . .

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli culture, Israeli music

 

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy