France’s Eurovision pick goes on defensive over anti-Israel tweet

Bilal Hassani, 19, rails at becoming ‘punchbag,’ says he was ‘young and stupid’ when he made social media posts in 2014

French singer Bilal Hassani in Paris on January 28, 2019. (Thomas Samson / AFP)
French singer Bilal Hassani in Paris on January 28, 2019. (Thomas Samson / AFP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — France’s Eurovision Song Contest hopeful Bilal Hassani complained Monday of becoming a “punchbag” after the Moroccan-origin singer drew criticism over postings online about Israel and terror attacks in France.

Hassani, 19, who was born in France to Moroccan parents, became an inspiration to LGBT teenagers last month after being picked to represent France at the Eurovision contest in May.

The gender-bending singer, who flaunts what he calls his “fabulousness” in a sleek blonde wig, has had to grapple with a tide of insults over his sexuality and appearance.

The youngster was forced on the defensive again after being accused by online critics of trivializing terrorism and making controversial remarks about Israel while he was in his early teens.

“Leave me alone, leave me in peace… I’m a human being like anyone and they take me for a punchbag,” he told the Parisien newspaper on Monday.

A tweet from August 2014 in which he accused Israel — which will host the Eurovision — of a “crime against humanity” during a ground offensive in Gaza has been shared online.

In another tweet earlier that year, which has also been resurrected, then 14-year-old Hassani appeared to defend controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a convicted anti-Semite.

French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala gestures to the media as he leaves a Paris court house, February 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Hassani told Le Parisien that at the time of the tweets he was “young and stupid” and that other people might have posted the messages under his name.

A video from 2018 has also surfaced in which Hassani and two friends declare “France suffered a lot, attacks here, attacks there. Oooh!” to hoots of laughter.

A senator from the conservative Republicans party wrote to the Eurovision jury to ask them to withdraw Hassani’s nomination for “trivializing” the series of jihadist attacks that claimed nearly 300 lives in France between 2015 and 2018.

The video was a parody of another popular online clip at the time, Hassani said.

Last week, Hasani said he had received death threats due to his decision to perform in Israel in the contest but would not be deterred.

“Sometimes there are people who try to make it a political event but I’m not about that. The stage is a sacred place,” he told Channel 12 in an interview. He filed a police complaint following the death threats, the TV report said.

“I can’t wait. I heard the life is really exciting over there in Tel Aviv. I can’t wait to see the sun and I can’t wait to visit,” he said. The singer discusses the online harassment he deals with on his YouTube channel, which has over 800,000 followers, and in his music.

The intense scrutiny of Hassani’s social media has drawn comparisons with the backlash against a French Muslim singer who was forced to quit TV singing show “The Voice” last year after coming under fire over old Facebook remarks about terror attacks.

Mennel Ibtissem, who stole the show with her English and Arabic version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” quit over the comments which appeared to question whether jihadists were really behind the attacks in France.

Hassani is hoping to secure France’s first Eurovision title since 1977 with a confessional-style track titled “Roi” (King) in which he appeals for tolerance.

“It bothers some people a lot that my parents were born in Morocco and that I’m gay. There’s no denying that,” he told Le Parisien, adding that the insults made him “even more determined to respond to the haters.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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