Israel to Examine Whether Iceland’s Eurovision Reps Plan to Violate Boycott Law

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Kobi Marimi, Israel's representative for Eurovision 2019, after winning the 'Next Star' song contest, February 12, 2019.
Kobi Marimi, Israel's representative for Eurovision 2019, after winning the 'Next Star' song contest, February 12, 2019.Credit: AFP

The Strategic Affairs Ministry has set up an inter-ministerial task force to determine how to manage possible political criticism of Israel or violations of the boycott law by foreign Eurovision delegations during the international music contest scheduled for mid-May in Tel Aviv.

Members of the Icelandic techno-punk band Hatari, for example, said in an interview in their home country that it’s absurd to participate in a song-and-dance competition in a country that violates human rights. After winning the pre-Eurovision contest in Iceland, the band challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a trouser-grip wrestling match the day after the finale.

>> With Iceland's Hatari staging anti-Israel protest, Eurovision 2019 is especially political

The Shurat Hadin organization, which represents Jewish terror victims, called on Interior Minister Arye Dery to prevent Hatari from entering Israel because the group declared support for the Palestinians. The Interior Ministry, however, is not the competent authority in this instance. The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the competition, told Haaretz that it expects Eurovision 2019 to be inclusive as always, and that the Kan broadcasting corporation will respect the freedom of all the participating delegations and artists.

Eurovision rules ban the expression of political opinions onstage. However, past competitions have proven that politics are inevitably part of the contest. For example, Ukrainian singer Jamala, whose winning song in 2016 recalled the Tatar invasion of her country, hinted at the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula. In another incident, the Israeli group PingPong pulled out a Syrian flag while performing the song "Sameach" in 2000.

The boycott law, passed in 2011, allows Israel to penalize anyone calling for boycott of Israel without having to prove that they sustained damage.

A letter sent by the Eurovision inspector, Jon Ola Sand, on behalf of the EBU to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year included the demand that neither participants nor tourists coming for the competition be denied entry for political reasons, and that all visitors – participants, fans or journalists – be allowed to move freely throughout Israel without restriction.

In an interview with Haaretz last November, Sand addressed the volatile political issues that holding the contest in Israel have brought forward. “We don’t want the Eurovision Song Contest to be used politically in any way. So, if you’re an activist and you come because you are an activist using Eurovision to promote your values or your standpoint – we don’t see that as positive," he said. "We would like everyone to come here to focus on the event itself.”

When asked whether having the Eurovision contest in Israel is a political matter, he said, “I cannot do anything about the perception – what people think about the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel […] as an organization we have a promise to our participating broadcasters to keep the shows free of politics. I see no boycott movement at the moment, [among any] of our members, and we have to remember there aren’t countries participating, there are broadcasters, and none of these broadcasters has mentioned anything about boycotts to us. No one.”

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