Opinion

Roger Waters Can Continue to Growl, but Eurovision Has a More Serious Problem

Forecasts of the number of foreign visitors for May’s song competition in Tel Aviv have now been cut to about 20,000 amid high ticket prices and a late start to ticket sales

Demonstrators boycott Eurovision Song Contest and call for Denmark to withdraw from the contest hosted in Israel this year, in Herning, Denmark, February 23, 2019.
Reuters

For generations of Israelis who grew up on Pink Floyd and who are familiar with every note and every word in the album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” it has been painful to see the band’s co-founder, that old lion Roger Waters, growling for years about Israel.

He is the most significant voice advocating a cultural boycott of Israel over the occupation and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He and his supporters have also chalked up several important achievements. In the past year, singers Lorde and Lana Del Rey cancelled their concerts here, and then there was the huge fiasco surrounding the cancellation of the Argentinian soccer team’s match in Jerusalem.

>> Read more: 'Refuse whitewash of Israel's crimes': Roger Waters calls for Eurovision boycott ■ Why would Israel even want to win Eurovision again? | Opinion 

Since that night in Lisbon last May when Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel, earning the country the right to host this year’s competition, Waters has been seeking the cancellation of the event, which is scheduled for Tel Aviv in two months. About 140 performers and creative artists from all over the world have joined him in supporting a boycott, including directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, musician Brian Eno, and actress Julie Christie.

It’s also unpleasant to find Israelis such as former Israeli air force pilot Yonatan Shapira (the subject of a song by Aya Korem) on the list, as well as musician and writer Michal Sapir, the granddaughter of late Israeli Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir. On the other hand, fan clubs, for which large numbers of tickets have been reserved, have demonstrated solidarity with Israel. Netta Barzilai, they have said, won the 2018 audience poll of viewers from all of the participating countries, and therefore any call for a boycott demonstrates disregard for nothing less than the results of a legitimate democratic vote.

Britain, Ireland, Sweden and Iceland had wavered about their participation in this year’s event, but in the end they have all fallen into line and have decided to come. In practice, not a single country or artist has cancelled participation in the Tel Aviv competition, and just one band, Hatari from Iceland, has said that it intends to stage an anti-Israel protest.

We can also assume that the open letter that Waters has just issued, just two months before the Eurovision finals, won’t lead a single candidate to reconsider. They have all signed binding agreements with their countries’ public broadcasting corporations in connection with the event, and when all is said and done, Eurovision is a stage that every artist dreams of. It’s unfortunate that an inclusive event such as Eurovision has increasingly become an arena for political wrangling, and not only regarding Israel.

It’s also hard to imagine that words of rebuke by an advocate of the anti-Israel boycott would influence the tourists planning to come here for the event. The problem on that score is entirely different.

The anticipation that there would be a large number of tourists – an expectation that I too got caught up in – stemmed from the swelling numbers of foreign tourists to Israel in general, the special place that Tel Aviv has on the entertainment map and the crazy buzz that has been backed by increasing interest in the event. Everyone has wanted to come.

But despite estimates of far greater numbers, it is now estimated that about 20,000 foreign visitors – the hard core that comes every year to every Eurovision host city. How did that happen? The main problem has been the late date on which tickets went on sale, the small number of tickets and the high prices. The breaking point came two weeks ago when 180,000 people, mostly from abroad, who tried to buy tickets were simply unable to make their purchases.

Ofer Adler, one of the biggest tourism wholesalers in Israel, said hotels had made a terrible mistake when they thought that Eurovision tourists were a captive audience who would pay any price. The Tel Aviv municipality even planned a huge tent city in Hayarkon park to accommodate the hundreds whom it was thought would be left without a hotel room. Those plans have now been cancelled, and that’s a good thing. Eurovision fans aren’t camping out types.

Most of the tourists who are coming have preferred to book guest rooms and private apartments that are not cheap but are not as expensive as the hotels. Adler and other senior industry executives say if the hotels don’t lower their prices in the next two to three weeks, there will be the “flop of the century.”

The uncertainty regarding additional musical performances and which leading artists are due to come also hasn’t helped in attracting tourists. The names that are being tossed out, and which are constantly changing – Madonna, Elton John, even an ABBA reunion via hologram – are overshadowing the organizers’ impressive plans. It may not bother the Israeli audience, but Europeans who are looking for musical entertainment want to know what to expect – and if possible, without the holograms.