BDS-backed Twitter bot network is targeting Eurovision, Israel charges

BDS-backed Twitter bot network is targeting Eurovision, Israel charges

Social media giant says it suspended a ‘small number of accounts’ after ministry complains fake users pushing boycott of this month’s song contest

Workers prepare the stage ahead of the opening of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, on April 15, 2019.  (Flash90)
Workers prepare the stage ahead of the opening of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, on April 15, 2019. (Flash90)

Israel said Thursday it had uncovered a network of bots and fake Twitter accounts urging a boycott of the upcoming Israeli-hosted Eurovision song contest.

The Strategic Affairs Ministry said the Palestinian-led movement that promotes boycotts against Israel is behind the effort.

Twitter confirmed it suspended “a small network of accounts” in response to the Israeli complaint.

Supporters of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led campaign advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, have been calling on artists to pull out of this year’s contest because of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

Iceland’s representative has said it would be “absurd” to participate, and boycott activists recently renewed their call for the country to withdraw completely from the event.

Pro-Palestinian activists protest against Israel outside the Manchester studio of “Eurovision: You Decide” on February 8, 2019. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

Singer Netta Barzilai’s win last year with the catchy pop anthem “Toy” earned Israel the honor of hosting the 2019 Eurovision competition later this month.

Thousands of tourists are expected to arrive in Tel Aviv for the campy, gay-friendly spectacle. The semifinals will be held on May 14 and 16 followed by the Grand Final on May 18.

Israeli government minister Gilad Erdan said BDS activists “are trying every deceptive method to attack Israel.”

Alia Malak, a member of the BDS campaign’s steering committee, accused Erdan’s ministry of “desperately spreading propaganda lies to cover up Israel’s multiple Eurovision failures.”

An anti-Israel protester holds a sign during a Eurovision qualifying contest in France on January 19, 2019. (screen capture: Pure Medias)

Activists had targeted Barzilai even before last year’s win, launching a campaign calling on voters to award her zero points. She said over the past year she has encountered angry protests across Europe as well.

“I personally think it is bullying to artists. If you have a demonstration, go and make it where it should be. My business isn’t representing. My business is music, and my business is spreading light and love,” she said this week.

“Being on the same stage no matter what your religion is — your ethnicity, your color — from all these countries, all these cultures combined together, this is a festival of light,” she said.

Israel’s singer Netta Barzilai celebrates with the trophy after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Francisco LEONG)

“For people to boycott light is spreading darkness, is doing the exact opposite thing, and that’s why I think they might be going against their own beliefs.”

Israelis celebrate the victory of Netta Barzlilai at the Eurovision 2018 song contest, Tel Aviv, May 12, 2018. (Flash90)

Israel boasts one of the Eurovision’s most rabid fan bases. Fans flooded Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in front of City Hall, with some euphorically jumping into a public fountain, after Barzilai was announced the winner last year in Portugal.

The City Hall building was lit up to spell “Toy” and electronic signs throughout the city congratulated her.

Earlier this week, Twitter launched a special Eurovision emoji and hashtag to celebrate the song contest.

AFP contributed to this report.

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