I first visited Iceland in 2005, and ever since then I have been enamored with the place. The scenery is stunning, the people are eccentric and welcoming , and the language is utterly beautiful and lyrical. I have made several trips back since my intitial encounter, and my mind still occasionally drifts off into day dreams about going back.
But I must admit my shock and dismay at hearing the news that famed Icelandic pop singer Páll Oskar has delved headlong into Israel-bashing. Last week, the flamboyant artist went on a venomous screed against Israel and called on Iceland to boycott this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. That was not the lowest blow, however, as he continued to make malicious anti Semitic remarks that had the gall to compare Jews to Nazis. Many Icelanders were rightfully outraged by his comments and vented their frustrations loudly and publicly. He has since apologized for the remarks, but he can never take away what he had originally said.
While it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israeli policy, it is hypocritical that artists such as Oskar are singling Israel out for boycott when it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest. The contest is fantastic (I am quite a fan) which sees many nations come together to celebrate art and music. The chaos of the real world momentarily stops, and people simply enjoy life and celebrate with song and dance. Well, in theory that is what the contest should be. But ever since Israel won last year’s contest, various groups in several participating countries have called for their home nations to boycott the event. These people have decided to punish Israel for perceived crimes committed against the Palestinians, and in doing so they have made a joyous event into a political rallying cry. What makes this call for boycott particularly offensive is that these artists are only being vocal because the so called offender is Israel. It is quite popular in this day and age to condemn and demonize Israel, and these artists are jumping on that bandwagon and spouting the typical talking points found in any anti Israel event. They do not actually care about the Palestinian people, nor do they care about peace. They quite frankly know very little about the conflict at all. All they want to do is demonize and dehumanize Israel and Israelis, and that is totally against the spirit of the Eurovision Song Contest.
These protesters are also quite hypocritical in their outrage. Turkey held the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004, yet these artists did not call for boycotts due to Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus or the suppression of the Kurds. Moscow held the event in 2009, yet these artists did not call for boycotts because of Russia’s meddling in Georgia or its horrid treatment of the Chechens. The fact that these selectively outraged artists only single out Israel for condemnation and boycott shows that there is something deeper and more sinister behind their motives.
And these sentiments seeped through when Páll Oskar continued to spread his bile. He portrayed Jews in a horrific light, and had the nerve to claim that we are now Nazis ourselves. These comments are not only historically and factually inaccurate, they are likewise despicable and deeply offensive. But his tirad proves what many of us suspect when people call for boycotts of Israel. It is never about the conflict. It is never about peace. It is never about the Palestinian cause. These people that push boycotts and demonization simply want to attack Jews. And this spreading trend is deeply concerning.
I am pleased that many Icelanders lambasted Páll Oskar for his reckless comments. It shows that not everyone is passively listening and watching people engage in anti semitism. I hope that the citizens in the other counties where artists are calling for a boycott likewise stand up and challenge this nonsense.
And so now I eagerly await to see this year’s competiton. I hope with all my heart that it is a great success. Let this year’s event be a victory for all of us that see it as a medium to foster dialogue and cross cultural understanding. Let us celebrate and not allow haters to ruin the spirit of a truly unique artistic event.