Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists protested outside the Manchester studio where Netta Barzilai performed during the final round of the televised competition to pick the British entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and signs in protest of Israel’s military rule in the West Bank as well as its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Israel says is in place to prevent Palestinian terror group Hamas from acquiring weapons.
The protesters called on the UK to boycott the final round of the international singing contest, which will be held in Tel Aviv on May 18.
A slightly smaller group of counter-demonstrators also gathered outside the studio waving Israeli flags as well as signs lauding Israel’s human rights record and thanking the BBC for its decision to broadcast the singing competition.
While there had been concern that protesters would disrupt Barzilai’s performance in the studio, she completed the act without incident. Last month, however, anti-Israel protesters briefly interrupted a Eurovision song contest qualifying round in France, as Barzilai stood on stage. A broadcast of the concert showed four or five protesters rush the stage, with at least one person holding a sign reading “No to Eurovision 2019 in Israel,” before being swiftly escorted away.
Following Barzilai’s rendition of “Toy,” which won the singing competition in 2018, 21-year-old Michael Rice was announced the winner of “UK’s Eurovision: You Decide” and will head to Tel Aviv.
The Eurovision contest is expected to draw tens of thousands of people and massive media attention to Israel. Anti-Israel protesters have zeroed in on the contest as a target for their boycott demands.
Last month, France’s Eurovision Song Contest hopeful Bilal Hasani said he had received death threats due to his decision to perform in Israel, but would not be deterred.
A week later, however, Hasani found himself going on the defensive following accusations by online critics of trivializing terrorism and making controversial remarks about Israel while he was in his early teens.
He, subsequently, complained Monday of becoming a “punchbag” after the Moroccan-origin singer drew criticism over postings online about Israel and terror attacks in France.
Barzilai rejected calls to boycott this year’s contest being held in Israel, saying in a BBC interview on Thursday, “When you boycott light, you spread darkness.”
“Boycotting is preventing light from being spread and when you boycott light, you spread darkness, that is what I think. I believe in a dialogue, I believe in protest, let’s have it, but boycotting isn’t the answer,” Barzilai told the BBC.
Last month, a cadre of British cultural figures called on the BBC to support moving the contest elsewhere due to “Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.” The network rejected the petition, saying Eurovision was “not a political event and does not endorse any political message or campaign.”