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Why Israel is unlikely to be banned from the Eurovision song contest

Despite loud calls from Scandinavia, the host broadcaster doesn’t want to turn a feel-good event into a stick of political dynamite.
Gilad Greenwald
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Israeli singer Netta Barzilai after her victory in 2018

Published: 20 February 2024

Last updated: 21 March 2024

Despite loud calls from Scandinavia, the host broadcaster doesn’t want to turn a feel-good event into a stick of political dynamite.

In recent weeks, voices in Europe have increasingly called on countries participating in the Eurovision Song Contest to boycott the event if Israel is not expelled by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

The most dominant expression of these voices is petitions, signed by thousands of artists in countries such as Iceland, Finland, Spain, and Sweden. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the EBU’s response was immediate and unequivocal: a full boycott and suspension of Russia from the contest. The decision was made as Russia was boycotted by all political, cultural, and sports enterprises in the Western world that year.

Unlike the Russian case, Israel's situation is much more complex for the EBU. There are political, historical, and musical reasons behind the complexity, which make the chances of Israel being suspended extremely low:

1. While around there was overwhelming political agreement over the suspension of Russia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general is much more controversial and far less clear-cut. If the EBU responds to boycott calls from negligible and small countries in the contest like Iceland, and repels Israel, it risks the withdrawal of large and important countries that (partly or fully) support the Israeli side, such as Germany, France, and the UK.

The difference between the Russian and Israeli cases was sharpened and illustrated this week by a petition signed by hundreds of artists (among them Helen Mirren, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Osbourne, and Boy George) in support of Israel's participation in the contest.

So if the EBU suspends Israel, it will be acting against important voices in the entertainment industry in Europe and in the US. It is not surprising, then, that the union issued another statement this week, in which it reiterated its commitment to the inclusion of Israel in Eurovision.

2. Historically, Israel has been a strong presence in the contest. Its achievements and musical and cultural contributions to Eurovision are impressive, and it has signed some of the most important Eurovision legends (both singers and songs). Iceland, in contrast to Israel, has never won or hosted the show, and it is difficult to recall any special imprint it has left on the contest.

At worst, Israel could suffer embarrassment: its entry may get  boo-ed or received a low score.

It is no wonder that in the EBU’s official announcements, it emphasises that Israel has participated in Eurovision for over fifty years, and will continue to do so in the future. In other words, as "ridiculous" as it may sound to some, in Eurovision there is not only politics, but also culture, art, and music, and these are definitely taken into account.

3. Since the 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv, the relationship between the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, Kan, and the EBU has been very strong, based on mutual trust and shared values. In this context, the EBU's insistence on holding Eurovision in Israel five years ago, despite similar calls to boycott it, and despite the difficult security challenges that holding the contest in Israel caused, is fondly remembered.

Over the past year, populist and far-right politicians, such as Minister of Communications, Shlomo Karhi (Likud), threatened the independence of the public broadcasting in Israel, and the EBU issued a firm response of solidarity with Kan. The EBU sent warning letters to Israeli politicians, calling on them to preserve the independence of public broadcasting in Israel.

Not for nothing, in its response to calls to boycott Israel, the EBU also makes sure to point out that Eurovision is a contest between public broadcasting corporations and not between governments.

4. The EBU fears that the Eurovision Song Contest will become a political tool in the hands of participating countries. In this sense, the removal of Israel can set a very dangerous precedent. If Israel is kicked out of the contest because of the conflict with the Palestinians, why wouldn’t the union also comply next year with a similar call to boycott Azerbaijan, for example, due to its illegal annexation of territories in Armenia?

For many decades, the EBU has avoided turning Eurovision into a tool for exerting political pressure by one country on another, and it has no intention of retreating from this long-standing tradition.

For all these reasons, the chance that Israel will be suspended from Eurovision is extremely low. At worst, Israel could suffer certain forms of embarrassment: its entry may get  “boo-ed” by the audience (this is not without precedent, and has happened many times to representatives of Russia), Iceland may gain its first Eurovision victory because it is represented by a Palestinian artist from East Jerusalem, and/or Israel may receive low score on political grounds.


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