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Eurovision Controversy Intensifies: Calls to Ban Israel Amidst Human Rights Concerns

From Artists' Petitions to Political Appeals, the Debate over Israel's Participation Reflects Broader Tensions Over its Policies and Actions in Gaza and the West Bank

By: Juka Seppala

There have been increased calls to bar Israel from entering the Eurovision competition because of Israel’s assault on Gaza and its war crimes committed against Palestinians, leading to a humanitarian crisis, and increasing settler violence in The West Bank. The calls to ban Israel has been reflected in major petitions signed by musical professionals in Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. In addition to these, the UK’s entry to the Eurovision, Olly Alexander, has signed a letter calling Israel an apartheid state guilty of genocide, which the organization Campaign Against Antisemitism has condemned.

Photo by: OrnaW from pixabay

By contrast, the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has advocated for a complete boycott of Eurovision, because BDS sees Eurovision as a platform used by Israel to whitewash what BDS considers ‘apartheid Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in Gaza’. Despite these concerns, Israel has been allowed to participate in the Eurovision even after the International Court of Justice, the highest court of international law, judged it is plausible that Israel’s actions in the Gaza strip could amount to genocide.

These two recent cases raise fundamental questions about Eurovision’s values and how the European Broadcasting union (EBU) applies its rules in practice. The EBU’s rules include that participating countries must ensure that the contest is not politicised or bring the competition into disrepute. It is because of this rule that Russia was barred from the contest in 2022, following its invasion of Ukraine, a decision that Executive supervisor Martin Österdahl said reflected the EBU’s core values of democracy.

Meanwhile, Israel has been allowed to participate, even though in terms of its illegality, Israel’s offensive on Gaza could be seen as analogous given Eurovision’s purported values. On the other hand, EBU forced Israel’s 2024 entry Eden Golan to change her song lyrics EBU due to the lyrics referencing the October 7 attacks committed by Hamas against Israel and the tragic experience of Israeli civilian victims experienced because of it. This is an example of EBU upholding one rule based on its narrow, inconsistent interpretation of what counts as ‘political’ or breach of its values.

To understand the persistent call for boycotts, the destruction of Gaza and settler violence in the West Bank has to be seen as part of a wider trajectory seldom mentioned in Western news reports, which primarily focus on the most recent events out of context. As demonstrated by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch, the current campaign of ethnic cleansing, starvation and collective punishment of Gaza stem from and are an escalation of Israel’s decades long expansion of illegal occupation and settlements in land, which is Palestinian under the international law, condemned by a number of United Nations resolutions, such as United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.

Eurovision wise, Israel’s hosting of Eurovision in 2019 was itself already condemned by Palestinian civil society, calls which were ignored, even in the case of the Icelandic Hatari, who controversially flew the Palestinian flag during the final, despite the call by BDS to not participate. This background shows a longer history of Palestinian rights ignored in favour of Israel participating in Eurovision. This suggests complicity continues because it is a well-established disposition, and the rights of Palestinians therefore continue to be a secondary concern.

This might be changing however: Belgium’s Culture Minister Benedicte Linard has recently called for Israel to be banned and politicians from the Spanish left-wing party Podemos have written to EBU to exclude Israel. It remains to be seen if there will be more calls from European countries to exclude Israel from Eurovision and which threshold Israel’s actions against Palestinians have to meet in order for them to be considered against Eurovision’s values.


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