Politics and pop culture mesh in Gaza conflict

January 16, 2009

Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza has made headlines around the world.

But beyond the raw realities of war — more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead — the three-week conflict has also created a peculiar intersection with music, literature and cinema, in the surreal way that wars sometimes do.

The latest away-from-the-headlines development is that Israel’s entry for the Eurovision song contest, the annual pan-European song-fest that pits some 40 nations against one another, is suddenly under pressure because of the war.

Israel, which has won the competition before and takes it very seriously, is hoping to enter a singing duo — Mira Awad, a Christian Arab Israeli, and Achinoam Nini, better known as Noa, a Jewish Israeli of Yemenite descent — for the event to be held in Moscow in May.

But some Arab and Jewish artists and intellectuals are calling on Awad to pull out of the competition, saying her participation would play into the “Israeli propaganda machine” that seeks to convey an image of national coexistence — Jews and Arabs living happily under one banner.

“What allows the international community to provide support is Israel’s image as a ‘democratic’, ‘enlightened’, ‘peace-seeking’ country,” a string of signatories wrote in an open letter to Awad, posted on the website of ynetnews.com.

“Your participation in Eurovision is taking part in the activity of the Israel propaganda machine,” they said, with one describing Awad’s role as that of a “fig leaf” for Israel.

Neither Awad nor Nini has commented on the letter but Israel’s broadcasting authority defended their participation, saying it “expresses the aspiration for coexistence which transcends politics.”

Another quirky overlap between the current conflict and art has been created by the successful Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir”, an animated documentary that examines the futility of Israel’s war in Lebanon in the early 1980s.

The film, which takes a critical look at the role Israel played during the massacre of Palestinians by Christian militias in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982, won a Golden Globe last week and is tipped for best foreign film at the Oscars.

Playing on those hopes, a cartoon in Haaretz newspaper on Thursday depicted a group of Israeli soldiers hanging around a tank outside Gaza as the city burns behind them. One of the soldiers says to the others: “I have an idea for a movie that could win an Oscar.”

The 24/7 coverage of the war in the Israeli media has also given publishing houses a good reason to crank up their war-book promotions.

Gefen, an Israeli publisher, took out advertisements in the Israeli press this week to tout new and re-issued titles including: “Shackled Warrior”, “Mossad Exodus”, and “The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu”, the military commander brother of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is tipped to win Israel’s next election on Feb. 10th.

It may not be art imitating life, but it is certainly life re-lived through pop culture.

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