Israel’s government has quietly set up a public relations campaign aiming to counter calls to boycott the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, according to a report on Friday.
The initiative posts advertisements on Google which appear to be in support of the boycott movement, but which actually link to a pro-Israel website, Reuters reported.
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 Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Activists have also been rumored to be planning to travel to Israel to disrupt the event, and Iceland’s representatives have threatened to protest onstage.
The campaign’s website describes Israel as “Beautiful, Diverse, Sensational,” a play on the initials of the movement.
The website, boycotteurovision.net, highlights Israel’s attributes with slick videos featuring footage of Eurovision contestants, Tel Aviv’s gay pride week and tourist sites around the country, alongside photo montages and talking points playing up Israel’s diversity, landscapes and culture.
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy confirmed that it was running the campaign, which BDS called “crude propaganda,” the report said.
On Wednesday the Gaza-based Palestinian Artists Association called for a boycott of Eurovision, saying that Israel was using the event to “perpetuate oppression, promote injustice or whitewash a brutal apartheid regime.”
The artists cited the killing of over 60 Palestinians — 50 of whom were Hamas members, according to the terror group — during Gaza border riots on May 14 last year, the same day Israel won the Eurovision contest, securing the right to host the 2019 edition.
The association held a sit-in outside the European Union’s Gaza office and wrote a letter of protest.
Israel intends to bar entry to people known to be planning to disrupt the contest, the Foreign Ministry said, according to a report published in The Guardian Tuesday.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told the British newspaper that Israel would only ban those who broke Israeli law, which includes a prohibition on support for boycotts of the Jewish state.
“This is going to be a huge party in which thousands of people will participate but we will remain extremely vigilant in order to make sure that no one comes here in order to disturb and destroy,” Nahshon said, according to The Guardian.
However, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office is in charge of battling BDS, reacted to the report on Twitter, saying it was “another lie by The Guardian.”
In 2017, Israel passed a law allowing the state to bar entry to BDS supporters. Israel says it retains the right to bar entry to those who wish to harm the country, and that its border procedures are done out of security concerns.
Israel said last week that it had uncovered a BDS-backed network of bots and fake Twitter accounts urging a boycott of Eurovision in Tel Aviv.
Twitter confirmed it suspended “a small network of accounts” in response to the Israeli complaint.
Singer Netta Barzilai’s win last year’s Eurovision with the catchy pop anthem “Toy” earned Israel the honor of hosting the 2019 competition. Thousands of tourists are expected to arrive in Tel Aviv for the campy spectacle. The semifinals will be held on May 14 and 16, followed by the grand final on May 18.