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Finland, Ireland Considering Boycott of Singing Contest due To Israeli Participation

Noa Kirel performing “Unicorn” for Israel at the first semifinal at the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. Photo: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

The controversy around Israel’s inclusion in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest rages on as more countries are speaking out about Israel’s participation in the international competition due to its military campaign against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (UMK), the Finnish singing competition that selects Finland’s representation for the Eurovision Song Contest — which will be held in Malmö, Sweden, in May — said last week that it remains unclear if Finland will participate in next year’s singing competition because of the Israel-Hamas war.

“The situation in the Middle East is worrying and serious, and it worries us as well. Finland’s pre-contest has become an important event that is held regardless of Finland’s participation in Eurovision,” UMK wrote in an Instagram Story, which is also saved on its Instagram highlights. “Regarding Eurovision, the management of the Finnish Public Broadcasting is receiving updates on the situation and discussing it with the European Broadcasting Union and other Nordic countries.”

The Finnish representative will be one of seven artists who will revealed on Jan. 10, while the UMK contest announcing the winner will be held on Feb. 10.

Ireland’s National broadcaster RTE has received hundreds of emails urging a boycott of the Eurovision if Israel participates because of the latter’s war in Gaza and an Irish Labour Party politician called for Ireland to pull out of the Eurovision because of Israel’s inclusion.

However, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said during a recent press briefing that they do not support boycotting the singing competition just because of Israel.

“For us to unilaterally boycott something – whether it’s Eurovision, whether it’s the Olympics, whether it’s boxing, whether it’s cycling –  just because Israel is there, to me that’s biting off your nose to spite your face,” said Varadkar. “I don’t think a unilateral boycott by Ireland of any sporting event or any musical event or competition is the right way to go.”

Varadkar added that isolating Israel from the international community and banning the Jewish state from an international competition like the Eurovision could be detrimental to peace efforts in the Middle East. He said Israel includes liberals “who do not necessarily support their government, who would like to see a two-state solution, and the difficulty, I think, with boycotts is that you can end up ostracizing and alienating the people who we actually need to engage with.”

Meanwhile the singer Ruslana Stepanivna Lyzhychko, known simply as Ruslana, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004 on behalf of Ukraine recently told the Israeli website Euromix that she stands in solidarity with Israel following the Hamas terrorist attacks that took place on Oct. 7 in the Jewish state. The singer, a former politician and activist, who was the first winner of the Eurovision contest for Ukraine, also drew parallels between the terrorism Israelis faced in October to what Ukrainians are experiencing following Russia’s invasion of their country.

“I dream of the day when no alarms will be sounded, of the day when no missiles will be launched and no weapons will be used,” she told the Israeli publication.

“I have performed many times in Israel, [but] I will never forget my 2005 performance at the Eurovision Song Contest [the national final],” she added. “I have a lot friends in Israel and I also cross my fingers about the situation in Israel. I was in Tel Aviv when you hosted the Eurovision [ in 2019]… it was an amazing moment.”

Other campaigns throughout European countries have pushed to limit Israel’s participation in Eurovision.

In Iceland, The Association of Composers and Lyricists of Iceland (FTT) released a statement on Dec. 11 that calls on the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV) to refrain from participating in Eurovision unless Israel is disqualified from the competition because of its war in the Gaza Strip.

Eurovoix News, a popular Eurovision fan media outlet, announced in November that it will “substantially restrict” its coverage of Israel in the Eurovision competition, and invited other journalists and media outlets to follow suit.

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Low Expectations Ahead of Palestinian ‘Unity’ Talks in Moscow Convened by Russian Regime

Posters on a wall in Tel Aviv highlighting the plight of Israeli hostages seized by Hamas. Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Representatives of Palestinian factions are traveling to Moscow this week for talks aimed at forging a greater degree of unity, but analysts remained skeptical that the Russian initiative is likely to register progress.

The talks, which are scheduled to begin on Wednesday, will bring together officials of the Islamist terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with representatives of PLO factions including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Announcing the talks last week, Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told pro-regime media outlets that “all Palestinian representatives who are located in different countries, in particular in Syria and Lebanon, other countries in the region,” would be invited to the Moscow parley, emphasizing at the same time that Russia’s rulers continue to regard the PLO — the main power in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) — as “the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people.”

Several regional policy analysts argued that expectations from the talks should be necessarily limited, especially as Russia has failed in past efforts to bring rival Palestinian factions closer together.

“Russia does not have any road map for the Palestinian file, especially for the Gaza Strip as it would be necessary to have mediation functions and maintain good contacts with both Israel and the paramilitary wing of Hamas in Gaza,” Ruslan Suleymanov — an independent Middle East expert based in Baku, Azerbaijan — told the German broadcaster DW on Monday.

Suleymanov said that the talks were primarily an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to showcase Russia’s geopolitical clout amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and with elections — which Putin is expected to win easily — on the calendar in March.

“It’s really just dialogue for dialogue’s sake,” Suleymanov remarked.

Hugh Lovatt — senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations — offered a similar perspective.

“This Russian summit is a way to show that Russia has the diplomatic capacity to play a hands-on role in supporting Palestinian national unity,” he told DW. However, previous reconciliation talks that were hosted in Moscow, Algiers and Cairo have “also not succeeded in brokering a lasting reconciliation deal between the rivals,” he said.

A potential obstacle to the talks emerged on Monday with the resignation of the PA’s Prime Minister, Muhammad Shtayyeh, who had enthusiastically backed the Moscow talks in a speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. The PA has been under increasing pressure from the US to form a more representative government that would be in a position to manage the Gaza Strip once hostilities end.

“The decision to resign came in light of the unprecedented escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the war, genocide and starvation in the Gaza Strip,” Shtayyeh told PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a formal letter.

“I see that the next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the new reality in Gaza and the need for a Palestinian-Palestinian consensus based on Palestinian unity and the extension of unity of authority over the land of Palestine,” he added.

A Hamas spokesman told the Saudi channel Al Arabiya on Sunday that the terrorist group wants to form “an impartial national government based on the consensus of the Palestinian factions,” adding that the talks in Moscow would focus only on “a certain period and clear tasks.”

Separately, Hamas politburo member Muhammad Nazzal told the pro-Hamas website Middle East Monitor that the Moscow meeting was necessary because there had been “no official communication” with the PA on the subject of post-war planning.

Nazal claimed in the same interview that Hamas remained a powerful force in the Gaza Strip, where it continues to hold hostage more than 100 of the 240 people seized during its pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7. “Rumours of Rafah in the south of being the last stronghold of Hamas are false; the resistance exists across the entire Gaza Strip,” Nazzal said. “Moreover, the movement is fighting a fierce political negotiating battle, no less than the battle it is waging on the ground.”

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Harvard Professor Resigns From Antisemitism Task Force

Demonstrators take their “Emergency Rally: Stand with Palestinians Under Siege in Gaza” out of Harvard University and onto the streets of Harvard Square, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., October 14, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Internal tension and disagreement have caused a member of Harvard University’s Presidential Task Force on Antisemitism to resign as co-chair, The Harvard Crimson reported on Monday.

Raffaella Sadun, a Harvard Business School professor, reportedly left the group —which was formed to issue recommendations for addressing anti-Jewish hatred on the campus — because the university would not guarantee that the task force’s guidance would be implemented as official school policy. Her aggravation has been mounting for “some time,” the paper added, but she declined to cite conflict as the reason for her departure.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help advance the vital work to combat antisemitism and believe that [interim Harvard University] President Garber has assembled an excellent task force,” Sadun said. “I will continue to support efforts to tackle antisemitism at Harvard in any way I can from my faculty position.”

In a statement, interim president Garber told The Harvard Crimson that Sadun had “expressed her desire” to get back to “research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities.”

“I am extremely appreciative of Professor Sadun’s participating in the task over the past few weeks,” Garber said. “Her insights and passion for this work have helped shape the mandate for the task force and how it can best productively advance the important work ahead.”

Announced in January, the Presidential Task Force on Antisemitism is Harvard University’s response to years of antisemitic incidents that earned the school the distinction of being labeled the most antisemitic campus in American higher education by education watchdog AMCHA Initiative. A now defunct group had been created by former president Claudine Gay, the Antisemitism Advisory Group, amid an explosion of antisemitic activity on campus following Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Gay eventually resigned from her position after providing controversial answers to a congressional committee about her efforts to manage the problem and being outed as a serial plagiarist. In her absence, Garber pushed ahead with forming task forces for addressing both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Since then, the antisemitism group’s membership have stirred controversy and speculation. In January, Jewish community activists and nonprofit leaders criticized its naming history professor Derek Penslar as a co-chair because, in his writings and public remarks, he had described concerns about rising antisemitism at Harvard as “exaggerated” and blamed Israel for fostering anti-Zionism. According to the Crimson, Penslar considered resigning but decided against doing so. In Jan., Rabbi David J. Wolpe stepped down from the group, saying in a statement on X that “both events on campus” and Gay’s congressional testimony “reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped.”

Last week, the school issued a statement denouncing another antisemitic outrage, a faculty anti-Zionist group’s posting on social media an antisemitic cartoon which showed a left-hand tattooed with a Star of David containing a dollar sign at its center dangling a Black man and an Arab man from a noose. The group’s leader, professor Walter Johnson, has since resigned as a member.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Antisemitism in Norway At Highest Levels Since WWII, Says Local Rabbi

Norwegian student Marie Andersen carries an antisemitic sign at an Oct. 21 pro-Hamas demonstration in Warsaw, Poland. Photo: Screenshot

Antisemitism in Norway is at its highest level since World War II, the rabbi of the country’s capital city of Oslo told Israeli television on Monday.

“There is a wave of antisemitism that we have not seen before,” said Rabbi Joav Melchior, who was born in Oslo but raised in Israel and currently leads the roughly 2,000 strong community of Oslo. “We haven’t seen such a wave since World War II, such an aggressive wave of antisemitism, even at the level of what is said in the media.”

“This is expressed in the things that people say both against Israel, both against Zionists and against Jews, which they did not say in the past,” he continued. “It’s something that would not have been accepted in the public discourse without a very harsh reaction,” he continued.

The comments by the rabbi follow actions by the Norwegian government that have been explicitly anti-Israel. Speaking at conference two weeks after the October 7 massacre, when Hamas terrorists stormed southern Israel, murdering over 1,200 and taking hostage more than 250, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide condemned Israel and not Hamas. Additionally, he compared Israel’s defensive response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, as well as refused the King of Norway from sending a letter of support and condolences to Israel following the attack.

In late October, a young Norwegian woman caused outrage around the world by carrying a viciously antisemitic placard at a pro-Hamas demonstration in Warsaw. The woman defended her behavior in an interview with a Norwegian broadcaster, characterizing the State of Israel as “dirty” and underlining that her main regret was that the furor she generated had “undermined the pro-Palestinian movement.”

Melchior continued in the interview, saying “There were certain cases of violence against Jews, both in their homes and on the street. Those people claim that they are not against Jews, because there are Jews who condemn Israel. It is as if the alibi of the anti-Jewish movement is to say that they are not antisemitic.” Despite this, the rabbi says it is still safe to walk around the street.

Due to the rise is antisemitism and the general anti-Israel sentiment in the country, Melchior said many Jews are debating whether they want to continue living in Norway.

“I think the reason for immigrating to Israel should not be because of antisemitism, but out of Zionism and out of a connection to the people of Israel and the desire to live in the Land of Israel, and that is what we educate,” he added.

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