As Israel gears up for the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, despite the best branding efforts, the kitschy festival is clouded in a heated political conflict and controversy.
The Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel has been urging tourists and artists to stay home. Even an Israeli promotional video for the contest appears to have backfired, drawing accusations of anti-Semitism and misogyny.
Israel earned the right to host after Israeli singer Netta Barzilai carried off last year’s prize with her spunky pop anthem “Toy.”
The Palestinian-led BDS movement, which promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, is calling on performers to pull out of the contest over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Dozens of European artists, led by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, signed a letter calling for the contest to be moved elsewhere. Demonstrations erupted outside television studios at a number of national finals. Boycott activists stormed the stage during France’s semi-final round. Iceland’s performers have vowed to leverage their platform to show the “face of the occupation.”
Adding to tensions, the contest coincides with the day that Palestinians commemorate as the anniversary of their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war that led to the establishment of Israel.
Scores of demonstrations to mark the day of mourning and protest Eurovision are planned throughout the country and in the Palestinian territories.
Whether it was falling rockets, mounting boycott calls or simply prohibitive ticket and travel costs for some European fans, the Tel Aviv Hotel Association said the contest has attracted far fewer foreign visitors than expected.
Israel has poured over $5.6 million into Eurovision security, “significantly more” than previous years, according to Sharon Ben-David, the Eurovision spokeswoman for Israel’s public broadcast station. Tens of thousands of police will patrol the contest throughout the week.