Flags have been used to mark political divisions as far back as Biblical times, with the Israelites encamping according to the standards and ensigns of their Tribes. Today, flags are often used to make statements about political affiliations, especially in public arenas. For this reason, a decision by Eurovision broadcasters to ban the Palestinian flag from the televised competition is a particularly painful blow to supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and other anti-Zionist activists.
Eurovision is a popular annual song competition in which Israel traditionally participates. It is not uncommon for audience members to take advantage of the media attention to express support for political causes, whether directly related to competing countries or not.
This year’s flag policy prohibits flags of nations which are not competing, have not competed recently or are not members of the United Nations. While Palestine has been recognized by 138 countries and has been granted observer status at the UN, it is not a member state.
When the policy was originally posted on the website of the Global Arena, the venue where the contest will take place May 14, it included the Palestinian flag as an example of a prohibited flag.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who recently took over as secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), was outraged by the policy, sending a scathing letter to the European Broadcasting Union. He called the decision “discriminatory and a serious offense against our nation.”
“We call upon you to immediately revoke this shameful decision,” he continued, demanding an apology to “millions of Palestinians around the world.”
According to Ynet, following the uproar from Palestinians and other groups whose flags were listed, an apology was issued, and the policy was revised and clarified. The specific examples removed, but the rules still prevent attendees from flying the Palestinian flag.
The policy states that the decision was made “for safety reasons, and to ensure the Eurovision Song Contest remains a non-political event.” Rainbow flags, representing the LGBT community, are permitted, “as a symbol of tolerance and diversity”.