Eurovision organizers say no to politics, but Israel still takes aim at BDS

Boycott supporters can watch an alternate broadcast online, but at the main event in Tel Aviv, even Icelandic bad boys Hatari are expected to behave

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Globalvision, a BDS broadcast that will run counter to Eurovision 2019, protesting Israel's hosting of the international song competition, is using this year's logo to promote its own message (Courtesy Globalvision)
Globalvision, a BDS broadcast that will run counter to Eurovision 2019, protesting Israel's hosting of the international song competition, is using this year's logo to promote its own message (Courtesy Globalvision)

When the final event of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 kicks off on Saturday night, May 18, some disgruntled fans may choose to express their disapproval of host country Israel by instead watching Globalvision, an alternative online broadcast supporting Palestinian artists.

That competing broadcast is for viewers “supporting the core principles of the right of all refugees to return, and human rights and dignity for all,” according to the organization’s website.

The Globalvision broadcast will go live to performances in Dublin, Haifa, London and Bethlehem and will include recordings from artists including British musician Brian Eno, Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab, Palestinian pop artist Bashar Murad and Israeli artist Ohal Grietzer.

The participants of the BDS event are mostly contestants who didn’t make it into Eurovision, said Adam Shay, a cultural boycott expert from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

In any case, the Globalvision broadcast is a non-event for the European Broadcasting Union, the organization that runs the Eurovision Song Contest.

Kobi Merimi, Israel’s contestant for this year’s Eurovision, in rehearsal on May 12, 2019 (Courtesy Flash 90)

“The EBU has the ability to lower the tension regarding BDS” — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel — said Shay, who met with members of the European organization in Tel Aviv last week.

“This isn’t an Israeli operation, it’s the EBU, and it belongs to them and they safeguard it vehemently. They will not allow any sort of political statement or actions by contestants — any contestant who tries will mostly probably be dropped.”

Still, while the EBU may not be concerned, Israel is very sensitive to anything that sounds or looks like BDS, said Shay.

“We’re so sensitive about the Eurovision, that when the Icelandic band said BDSM, we think it’s BDS,” said Shay.

The Icelandic band Hatari, which sings a message of anti-capitalism while dressed in spikes, leather and chains, initially claimed its song entry, “Hatred Will Prevail,” was a political statement against Israel’s government, although the song makes no reference to Israel.

The band refers to itself as an “anti-capitalist, BDSM [bondage-discipline-sadism-masochism] techno band.”

That’s BDSM, not BDS, and it’s not related to the boycott movement.

The band’s members did cause a stir earlier this year by threatening to use their platform to criticize Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. They also challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a friendly match of traditional Icelandic wrestling.

In truth, however, they can’t afford to make any political waves if they want to compete, said Shay.

All the same, Israel’s government has quietly set up a public relations campaign aiming to counter calls to boycott the song contest in Tel Aviv.

The initiative posts advertisements on Google that appear to be in support of the boycott movement, but which actually link to a pro-Israel website.

And Kan, the country’s main broadcaster, which will broadcast Eurovision, published a nearly four-and-a-half minute musical attempting a satirical look at Israel, taking self-deprecating aim at the country’s treatment of Palestinians, greedy Jews, crazy drivers, obsession with shawarma and the industrial ruination of the Dead Sea, among other things.

The tongue-in-cheek video, stands in sharp contrast to a billboard put up above the highway leading from Ben Gurion International Airport to Tel Aviv by the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence, which protests the country’s occupation of the West Bank.

The Breaking the Silence billboard posted above the highway from Ben Gurion International Airport to Tel Aviv, attempting to draw the attention of tourists arriving for Eurovision 2019 (Courtesy Breaking the Silence)

The billboard features the Eurovision logo, “Dare to Dream,” with the words “of freedom” on the second half, and a photo of the West Bank security barrier and a military watchtower. The organization, which gathers testimonies from Israeli soldiers, runs regular tours of Hebron.

Netta Barzilai, the Israeli singer who won the 2018 Eurovision with her quirky performance of “Toy,” condemned all boycott attempts.

“This is a festival of light,” she told the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem last week. “For people to boycott light is spreading darkness.”

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