Eurovision confirms Israel can compete

Eurovision confirms Israel can compete
Artists and musicians in Sweden, Iceland and Finland had petitioned the European Broadcasting Union to exclude Israel over its atrocities in Gaza
3 min read
16 February, 2024
European Broadcasting Union said it had conducted a review and decided late last year that Israel could participate [GETTY]

Israel can compete in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, organisers confirmed on Thursday, again rejecting calls for it to be excluded over the Gaza war like Russia was after invading Ukraine.

On Wednesday, a group of 400 celebrities including British actress Helen Mirren, British singer Boy George and former Kiss frontman Gene Simmons published an open letter supporting Eurovision's decision to maintain Israel's participation.

The letter was issued in response to petitions calling for Israel to be kicked out of the world's biggest live music event, which is being held in Malmo, Sweden, in May.

Approached by AFP, the European Broadcasting Union said it had conducted a review and decided late last year that Israel could participate in the kitsch annual pop extravaganza.

"The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political music event and a competition between public service broadcasters who are members of the EBU. It is not a contest between governments," EBU director general Noel Curran said, reiterating a statement made in January.

Israel is to take part in the second semi-final on May 9, from which 10 of the 16 contenders will progress to the grand final on May 11.

Eden Golan, 20, who grew up in Russia, will represent Israel after winning a domestic contest. Her song has yet to be announced by broadcaster KAN, which handles Israel's participation in Eurovision.

Israel has qualified for every grand final since 2015.

The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

After the attack, Israel launched a relentless military offensive that has killed at least 28,600 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The following day, the EBU said that including a Russian entry in that year's contest "would bring the competition into disrepute".

The decision was "based on the rules of the event and the values of the EBU", it said.

Curran said it was not the EBU's place to make comparisons between wars, and that in the case of Russia, it was the Russian broadcasters themselves who were suspended from the EBU "due to their persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values".

In their open letter, the artists led by Mirren said they had been "disappointed to see some members of the entertainment community calling for Israel to be banished from the Contest for responding to the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust".

"We believe that unifying events such as singing competitions are crucial to help bridge our cultural divides and unite people of all backgrounds through their shared love of music," said the letter, which makes no mention of the massive civilian casualties in Gaza.

Founded in 1950, the Geneva-based EBU is the world's biggest public service media alliance. It has 112 member organisations in 56 countries.

Curran said the EBU was acting in line with other international organisations, such as sports federations, which have kept Israel in their competitions.

In 1998, Israel's Dana International became the first openly transgender singer to win Eurovision.

After also winning in 1978 and 1979, Israel won Eurovision for a fourth time in 2018.

Malmo is hosting the 68th edition after Swedish singer Loreen won the 2023 contest in Liverpool, England with the song "Tattoo", watched by some 162 million viewers.

The 2024 event coincides with the 50th anniversary of ABBA's Eurovision victory -- Sweden's first -- with their breakthrough hit "Waterloo".