French Contestant Denies Threats to Boycott Eurovision in Israel: ‘We Are Definitely Participating’

Singer Bilal Hassani is in Israel to film a video clip for the competition

Lior Soroka
Lior Soroka
FILE PHOTO: French singer Bilal Hassani poses in Paris, January 28, 2019.
FILE PHOTO: French singer Bilal Hassani poses in Paris, January 28, 2019.Credit: AFP
Lior Soroka
Lior Soroka

Bilal Hassani, who will represent France in the Eurovision Song Contest set to take place in Tel Aviv in May, denied reports that France has threatened not to participate in the competition. “We are definitely participating,” he told Haaretz.

Hassani, 19, arrived in Israel on Tuesday and is here to film the video clip that will be broadcast at the Eurovision prior to his performance of his song, “Roi” (“King”).

He said he was very happy and excited to be here in Israel and was met with a very warm reception.

>> ‘Arab in a Wig’: France sends barrier-breaking provocateur to Israel's Eurovision

Last week, Haaretz reported that France had threatened to boycott this year’s Eurovision contest over a television series that is slated to be aired in May on Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, during the week of the competition.

The three-part miniseries, called “Douze Points”, is about ISIS terrorists who use the French representative at the contest in order to carry out an eye-popping terror attack on air. A possible reason why France issued the threat might be because of the similarity between Hassani, who is Muslim and homosexual, and the series’ protagonist, a gay French-Algerian.

Hassani was born in Paris to French-Moroccan parents. He came out as gay two years ago, at 17, when he released a song on Twitter called “Hold your Hand.” It contained the lyric: “I can’t stop all the angry eyes judging our love, but you know I’ll only smile when I get to hold your hand.”

He boasts an androgynous appearance, a keen queer social awareness and a dazzling array of wigs. This combination has proven to be a winning recipe – He’s become a viral web presence, often appearing at Pride parades.

Hassani’s clip will be filmed on Thursday and on Friday Hassani will be the guest of the Tel Aviv municipality’s LGBTQ community center and will meet with members of the local community. The French Embassy in Israel and the French Eurovision delegation assisted in preparations for the meeting.

With the announcement of his selection for Eurovision, there was much furious reaction on social media, with many saying he should be boycotted for “denigrating his Muslim heritage” and others dismissing him as “an Arab in a wig.”

Hassani seems unphased by the criticism. On Tuesday evening he went out with the French delegation to the Teder.FM bar in Tel Aviv, and wore his trademark long, flowing blonde wig.

Hassani is guaranteed a place in the finals because France is one of the five major financial sponsors of the competition. “Roi” is in ninth place in the betting for the contest, according to the website. The favorite for now is the Russian contestant Sergey Lazarev. Israel’s Kobi Marimi, whose song “Home” has yet to be released, is far behind in the 28th spot in the betting odds – out of the 42 participants. The site compiles the odds based on information from all the bookkeepers who conduct betting on the contest.

Sales of tickets for the Eurovision will open in the next few days, after a long delay. The prices were released last week and they are much higher than in previous years. Hall seats for the May 18 final will cost 1,150 shekels ($317). The cheapest ticket for the international song competition is 350 shekels (slightly less than $100), which buys a hall seat for a semi-final rehearsal, while the most expensive tickets runs at 2,000 shekels ($552) for a seat and a “green room” pass for the grand final.

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