Middle East

Palestinians speak out over Eurovision as international stars prepare for semi-finals

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Australia’s Kate-Miller Heidke will take to the Eurovision stage in Tel-Aviv for the first semi-final on Wednesday. But the talk of this year’s contest so far has been a boycott campaign backed by supporters of the Palestinian territories.

Ben Lewis reports from Ramallah, West Bank

Early on Wednesday morning, Australia’s Kate-Miller Heidke will take to the Eurovision stage in Tel-Aviv for the first semi-final - but this year’s contest has been somewhat overshadowed by a boycott campaign, backed by supporters of the Palestinian Territories.

While the Israeli government has called the campaign discriminatory and anti-Semitic, local musicians say they hope it will trigger international reflection.

Kate Miller-Heidke during a presentation of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest participants in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Kate Miller-Heidke during a presentation of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest participants in Tel Aviv, Israel.
AAP

Ramallah-based singer Maya Khaldi has strong feelings about Israel hosting the song contest and the fact no nations have pulled out.  

“It definitely in one way or another talks about the world right now. They see what’s happening, but they don’t want to make a change,” she told SBS News. 

“There’s no artist without morals, there’s no artist without value, and if you are an artist with values then you need to take a stand, you’d need to say no to what you see is wrong.” 

Maya Khaldi
Palestinian artist Maya Khaldi has strong feelings about Israel hosting Eurovision.
Ben Lewis

The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement”, better known as BDS, has mounted the high-profile campaign pressuring European nations not to attend the contest in Tel Aviv.  

“There’s no way for Eurovision to happen in a way which is not complicit with what the government does,” according to Tali Shapiro, an activist with BDS. 

“You’ve got this very affluent, rich city, glitzy culture and what not, pop, the fun part of life. Then on the other side, you go to the west bank, you go Gaza, you have both realities existing."

Tali Shapiro
Tali Shapiro, an activist with BDS.
Ben Lewis

The Israeli government has branded the boycott push "discriminatory" and has responded with its own PR offensive.  

Type BDS into Google and the first website that appears promotes Israel as “beautiful,  Diverse and Sensational’. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely laughed off the boycott threat.  

“I wish great success to all of the participants and may the best one win, and of course that is (Israel’s) Kobi Marimi," he said. 

The West Bank.
The West Bank.
SBS News

The contest is in Israel thanks to the chicken dancing singer Netta Barzilai, who won the 2018 edition.  

She said the boycott campaign is not in line with the event’s values.  

"When you boycott light - Eurovision is light, it's a light festival - you spread darkness,” she told reporters. 

“Darkness isn't a good thing. Eurovision was founded after World War Two in order to heal up a torn-up continent and it's light.” 

The boycott campaign may not have achieved its ultimate aim of getting artists to withdraw from the contest, but it has brought attention to the issue.  

On Monday’s orange carpet opening event, Eurovision competitors weren’t only being asked about their songs and outfits; they were discussing human rights and conflict.  

Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke told SBS News she has no regrets about taking part. 

“Since being here, I’ve been even more sure about the value of open dialogue,” she said. 

“All the artists have been experiencing the same pressures, the same kind of twitter extremism, I’ve spoken with some of the other artists, everyone feels conflicted about it, everyone feels under pressure.” 

Kate Miller-Heidke walks the orange carpet.
Kate Miller-Heidke walks the orange carpet.
AAP

The Palestinian Authority is encouraging performers to visit the West Bank while they’re in the region. 

“Come to Palestinian territory, see the reality, go to the checkpoints, see the settlements and see how Palestinians still live,” Lama Nazeeh from the Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry, said.

It’s not clear if any artists will take up the offer. 

SBS News's Ben Lewis is tweeting from Israel @benlewismedia

The Eurovision Grand Final will be held on Sunday 19 May at 5am (AEST) with an 8pm (AEST) replay on SBS Australia. It will also be streamed on SBS On Demand.

Head to the SBS Eurovision website for all the latest news from Tel Aviv.

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