Israel chooses the Eurovision law amid a whirlpool of boycott campaigns

The bright lights and sparkling dresses of the singing competition were supposed to be a respite after a depressing, hostage-filled news day on Israeli television.

However, a sombre mood descended on the final episode of Rising Star, the show that chooses Israel’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, pitting four young pop singers against each other on Tuesday night.

This year’s winner, Eden Golan, 20, dedicated her performance of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” to the more than 100 Israeli hostages still held in Gaza. “We’re not really going to be okay until everyone goes home,” she said.

As the victor, Golan will travel to Malmo, Sweden, in May to represent her country at Eurovision, a high-profile event watched by tens of millions and decided in part by a public vote. It is not an obvious agent of war. But as the civilian death toll in Gaza rose, calls grew to ban Israel from attending this year’s event.

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

The campaign to exclude Israel was launched in December, after the exclusion of Iceland Association of Composers and Poets He posted a statement on Facebook in which he said that the Israeli aggression against Gaza had made the country incompatible with an event “characterized by joy and optimism.”

A petition in Iceland has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures – equivalent to about 3% of the country’s population – calling for Israel’s expulsion. The petition said that if Israel was allowed to participate, Iceland should boycott the event.

In recent weeks, thousands of musicians have participated Norway, Denmark And Finland Similar letters were signed. And A Swedish open letterIts signatories, pop star Robyn, noted that Eurovision organizers have banned Belarus in 2021. Because of its government’s suppression of media freedom.

The following year, Russia was banned after it began its all-out invasion of Ukraine. Eurovision organizers said at the time that allowing Russia to remain in the competition “would bring the competition into disrepute.”

Eurovision officials say the cases of Israel and Russia are different. “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, we should not make them,” Noel Curran, director general of the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the competition, said in an email.

He added: “We understand the deep-rooted concerns and views regarding the current conflict in the Middle East.” But he added that Eurovision “is not a competition between governments.”

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

In 2019, Palestinian activists called on potential participants to boycott the parade, which was expected Taking place in Tel Aviv that year. No one pulled out, but Hatari, the electric band representing Iceland, A Palestinian flag was raised during the final matchDuring the competition break, Madonna, a special guest, It sparked controversy When two of her dancers wore the Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs.

But Stefan Eriksson, general director of RUV, Iceland’s public broadcaster, said the debate over Israel’s involvement has never been as heated as it is now. Ericsson said that his country will choose its contestant in the Eurovision contest next month, also through a televised singing competition. But he said it was up to the winner whether he would participate in May, or heed the invitation not to participate in this year’s competition.

Among the candidates to represent Iceland Bashar Murad, Palestinian musician Who has the It angered the Israelis After speaking out against the destruction of Gaza in December Interview with thema strange electronic magazine.

If selected, Eurovision rules would require Murad to stop making political statements, although sometimes comments he made about Gaza before the act was selected have been mined and scrutinized. Bambi Thug, the singer who will represent Ireland, He told the Irish Examiner newspaper Before being selected, Eurovision should not have one rule for Russia and another for Israel. And Olly Alexander, who will represent Britain last year I signed an open letter He described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide.”

After the BBC, which chose Britain to join, selected Alexander in December, the non-profit Campaign Against Anti-Semitism He called on the broadcaster to rethink his choice. A spokeswoman for Alexander said he was unavailable for comment, and a BBC spokeswoman reconfirmed that Alexander had signed the letter before being selected as Britain’s representative.

Even if the conflict in Gaza subsides by May, it will likely play an important role, said Dean Violetik, who has written and edited books about Eurovision. He said voters increasingly viewed the contest as a “forum to make political statements.” In 2014, they showed their support for LGBT people by Vote for Conchita Wurstan Austrian singer and performer, and in 2022, voters It overwhelmingly supported the Ukrainian measure, Kalush OrchestraAs a sign of opposition to the Russian invasion.

He added that Eurovision fans have a range of views on the conflict in Gaza, and while some will refuse to vote for Israel, others may cast a sympathetic vote.

However, some Israeli fans are concerned about what might happen in Malmo. Nir Harel, Chairman OGAE IsraelThe Israeli branch of the network of Eurovision fan clubs said in an interview that the hype surrounding his country’s participation was “frustrating and disappointing,” especially since “Eurovision is a bubble – a friendly bubble – and politics should not enter it.”

Harel said that in May he expected the audience to boo the Israeli participant. “Of course we are concerned about that,” Harel said, adding that he also expects many Eurovision fans will not vote for the Israeli entry, no matter how good Golan’s song is.

However, he said he will be there in Malmo with other members of his club. “We already have our tickets,” Harrell said. He added: “When we arrived in Malmo, we were Eurovision fans. We are there as fans of the Israeli contestant, not as fans of the Israeli government. We will support everyone.”

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