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Eurovision 2019: Palestinians and boycott movement call on performers to withdraw from song contest

Israel’s right-wing had hoped to stage the event in the contested city of Jerusalem

A lifeguard's hut is painted with the Eurovision Song Contest logo at the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, 07 May 2019. EPA
A lifeguard's hut is painted with the Eurovision Song Contest logo at the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, 07 May 2019. EPA

Less than a week away from this year’s Eurovision song contest held in Tel Aviv, international calls for boycotting the event in solidarity with Palestinians have yet not disrupted the annual competition.

But Israeli authorities are at pains to ensure that the world’s longest running televised singing contest does not become a platform for protest against the country’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and its treatment of Palestinians.

Eurovision will take place May 14-18 in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. May 15 is the annual commemoration of the Palestinian nakba, or catastrophe, in which Palestinians remember the 700,000 who fled or were expelled from their homes with Israel’s creation 71 years ago.

The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has called on performers and broadcasters to withdraw from the Tel Aviv competition, which it condemned as “artwashing – whitewashing through art”.

After Israel won the 2018 competition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to hold the event in Jerusalem, a city that both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to. Israel has hosted Eurovision in Jerusalem twice before.

This year, though, the competition’s sponsor, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), instead chose Tel Aviv for its “best overall setup,” according to a statement.

Following the announcement, the union’s steering committee Chairman Frank-Dieter Freiling said he expected Mr Netanyahu to guarantee “security, access for everyone to attend, freedom of expression and ensuring the non-political nature of the contest”.

Nonetheless, Israeli authorities have said they will deny entry to anyone coming to boycott or disrupt the event.

“If we know for certain that we will be facing people who are anti-Israel activists and whose sole purpose is to disturb the event then we will use the legal instruments that we have regarding the entry to Israel,” a foreign ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, told The Guardian.

Two years ago, Israel passed legislation that codified its practice of denying entry to any individuals or representatives of groups, including Israeli citizens, who support some form of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Contestants in the competition had already started to arrive in Israel when fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza escalated this weekend into the bloodiest since the 2014 war. Twenty-five Palestinians and four Israelis were killed before the two sides reached a ceasefire early Monday morning.

On Wednesday, the Gaza-based Palestinian Artists Association called on contestants to boycott the event, which they said Israel was using to “perpetuate oppression, promote injustice or whitewash a brutal apartheid regime”.

As an alternative, international and Palestinian activists are planning “Globalvision,” a singing event to be streamed online around the world. With its tagline “Dare to Dream Together,” – a riff off of Eurovision’s theme of “Dare to Dream” – the event is set to air at the same time as the Eurovision finals on May 18. Along with ongoing social media campaigns, that same day activists are planning a protest in Tel Aviv against Eurovision.

So far, none of the 42 scheduled Eurovision acts have withdrawn.

Iceland’s act, the band Hatari, which describes itself as an “anti-capitalist, BDSM [bondage, discipline, dominance and submission], techno-dystopian,” have made news by challenging Mr Netanyahu to a traditional Icelandic wrestling match.

On Tuesday, they pointedly visited the occupied West Best city of Hebron, where small and extreme Israeli settlements are dotted around the Palestinian-majority city.

Nonetheless, they’ve also reiterated in interviews that they do not intend to disrupt the contest with political statements, which the EBU forbids.

Updated: May 9, 2019 03:25 PM



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