0

Israel Chooses a Eurovision Act as Boycott Campaigns Swirl

Share

The singing contest’s glitzy lights and glittering dresses were supposed to be a respite after another depressing, hostage-filled news day on Israeli TV.

Yet a somber mood hung over the finale of “Rising Star,” the show that selects Israel’s representative for the Eurovision Song Contest, as it pitted four young pop singers against one another on Tuesday night.

This year’s winner, Eden Golan, 20, dedicated her performance of “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith to the more than 100 Israeli hostages still held in Gaza. “We won’t truly be OK until everyone returns home,” she said.

As the victor, Golan will travel to Malmo, Sweden, in May to represent her country in Eurovision, a high-camp spectacle watched by tens of millions and decided, in part, by a public vote. It is not an obvious proxy for war. But as the civilian death toll in Gaza has mounted, there have been growing calls for Israel to be banned from this year’s event.

Several prominent, artist-led campaigns argue that recent decisions to exclude Russia and Belarus set a precedent, and that Israel should be banned for human-rights violations. Eurovision officials reject those comparisons, but when Golan performs in Malmo, it seems certain that many voters will be thinking about more than just her singing.

The campaign for Israel’s exclusion took off in December, after Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists published a statement on Facebook saying that Israel’s aggression in Gaza made the country incompatible with an event “characterized by joy and optimism.”

A petition in Iceland has garnered about 10,000 signatures — equivalent to almost 3 percent of the country’s population — calling for Israel to be expelled. If Israel is allowed to take part, the petition said, Iceland should boycott the event.

In recent weeks, thousands of musicians in Norway, Denmark and Finland have signed similar letters. And a Swedish open letter, whose signatories included the pop star Robyn, pointed out that Eurovision’s organizers banned Belarus in 2021 over its government’s suppression of media freedom.

The following year, Russia was banned after it began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Allowing Russia to remain in the competition “would bring the competition into disrepute,” Eurovision’s organizers said at the time.

Eurovision officials say the cases of Israel and Russia are different. “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a nonpolitical media organization, not ours to make,” Noel Curran, the director general of the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, said in an email.

“We understand the concerns and deeply held views around the current conflict in the Middle East,” he said. However, he added, Eurovision is “not a contest between governments.”

This is not the first time that conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has raised its head at Eurovision, which Israel first entered in 1973 and has since won four times. (Some other countries outside Europe, including Azerbaijan and Australia, also send entries to the competition.)

In 2019, Palestinian activists called on prospective entrants to boycott the show, which was taking place in Tel Aviv that year. Nobody pulled out, but Hatari, an electro band representing Iceland, unfurled a Palestinian banner during the final, and during a competition interlude, Madonna, a special guest, stirred controversy when two of her dancers wore Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs.

But the debate around Israel’s involvement had never been as heated as now, said Stefan Eiriksson, the director general of RUV, Iceland’s public broadcaster. Eiriksson said that his country would choose its Eurovision contestant next month, also via a televised singing contest. But it will be up to the winner whether to take part in May, or to heed the call to sit this year’s competition out, he said.

Among the favorites to represent Iceland is Bashar Murad, a Palestinian musician who has drawn the ire of Israelis after speaking out against the destruction of Gaza in a December interview with Them, a queer online magazine.

If he is selected, Eurovision’s rules will require Murad to cease making political statements, although sometimes comments about Gaza made before an act was chosen have been dug up and pored over. Bambie Thug, a singer who will represent Ireland, told the Irish Examiner newspaper before being selected that Eurovision shouldn’t have one rule for Russia and another for Israel. And Olly Alexander, who will represent Britain, last year signed an open letter that described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “a genocide.”

After the BBC, which chooses Britain’s entry, selected Alexander in December, the nonprofit Campaign Against Antisemitism called on the broadcaster to rethink its choice. A spokeswoman for Alexander said he was unavailable to comment, and a BBC spokeswoman reaffirmed that Alexander had signed the letter before being chosen as Britain’s act.

Even if the conflict in Gaza has subsided by May, it will still likely play a significant role, said Dean Vuletic, who has written and edited books on Eurovision. Voters increasingly see the contest as “as a forum to make political statements,” he said: In 2014, they showed their support for L.G.B.T.Q. people by voting for Conchita Wurst, an Austrian singer and drag performer, and in 2022, voters overwhelmingly backed Ukraine’s act, Kalush Orchestra, as a sign of opposition to Russia’s invasion.

Eurovisions fans have a range of views around the conflict in Gaza, he added, and while some will refuse to vote for Israel, others may cast votes in sympathy.

Yet some Israeli fans are anxious about what might happen in Malmo. Nir Harel, the president of OGAE Israel, the Israeli branch of a Eurovision fan club network, said in an interview that the furor around his country’s participation was “frustrating and disappointing,” especially because “Eurovision is a bubble — a friendly bubble — and politics should not enter it.”

In May, Harel said, he expected the audience to boo Israel’s entrant. “Of course we’re worried about that,” Harel said, adding that he also expected many Eurovision fans not to vote for the Israeli entry, no matter how good Golan’s song was.

Nevertheless, he said he would be there in Malmo along with other members of his club. “We already have our tickets,” Harel said. “When we land in Malmo, we’re Eurovision fans,” he added: “We’re there as fans of the Israeli contestant, not as fans of Israel’s government. We’ll be supporting everyone.”


#Israel #Chooses #Eurovision #Act #Boycott #Campaigns #Swirl