An Israeli anti-occupation NGO came under fire Monday for using this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv to offer foreign visitors tours to see “the reality” of military rule over Palestinians in the West Bank.
The billboard put up Sunday along Tel Aviv’s busiest main road by Breaking the Silence says in English “Dare to Dream of Freedom”, a play on the 2019 Eurovision slogan “Dare to Dream”.
It comes just a day before the popular annual songfest is set to kick off in Israel, which sees it as a glittering opportunity to show its fun face and promote tourism.
Behind the slogan, the billboard shows a picture of Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean beachfront alongside a view of Israel’s West Bank separation wall with a military watchtower.
It also invites visitors to “See the Full Picture” with daily free tours to Hebron in the occupied West Bank, starting from Tuesday. The ancient city is a constant flashpoint where at least 600 Jewish settlers live under heavy military guard amid some 200,000 Palestinians.
Breaking the Silence, which Israel’s right wing has accused of treason, collects and publishes testimony from current and former Israeli soldiers of abuses they say they carried out or witnessed during their service in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“We’re happy you came to party with us! Enjoy the sunny beaches and exciting nightlife,” its website says. “But there is another side to Israeli society. An hour away from your hotel, throughout the territories millions of Palestinians are still living under our military rule.”
The initiative outraged Israeli political leaders and the local media. “The despicable hate organization Breaking the Silence again finds time to spread lies against the state of Israel,” Public Security Minster Gilad Erdan tweeted.
Top-selling Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot said the Eurovision phenomenon was meant to set reality aside. “In Eurovision there are only fantastic landscapes, beautiful people and spectacular beaches.”
It accused the group of “exploiting the opportunity to circulate propaganda in service to the anti-Israel campaign”. A counteroffensive came from Los Angeles-based Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, which is set to put up its own billboard on May 15.
It shows pictures of doves, the beach, small children and a Jew and Palestinian walking arm-in-arm, according to the group’s website. It too offers free tours “to see our open society and how Israel is a beacon of light to the world”.
Their itinerary covers the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa in northern Israel, settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the flashpoint Israel-Gaza border.