The Eurovision song contest is set to take place in Israel later this month.
The Israeli government is treating the event as a major propaganda opportunity, with full support from the state, backed by more than $30 million in government financing.
It’s even decreed the effort a “national project”.
But recent Israeli reports suggest that, despite all these efforts, the event could end up as a total flop, with negative future consequences for the prospects of Israel’s efforts to influence global public opinion in its favour.
Since Israel won the competition last year (in questionable circumstances), Eurovision Tel Aviv has been targetted by a major BDS movement campaign. The Palestinian-led global grassroots initiative has made massive waves.
Hundreds of notable cultural figures around the world have called for the event to be boycotted, including 140 leading international musicians, film-makers and other artists.
In January, the indie rock band Wolf Alice, actor Maxine Peake and legendary musician Peter Gabriel very publicly endorsed the boycott campaign.
“Eurovision may be light entertainment, but it is not exempt from human rights considerations,” they wrote in a letter to the Guardian, saying that any “claim to celebrate diversity and inclusion must ring hollow” in these circumstances.
More recently Palestinian campaigners have called specifically on Hatari (the Icelandic entrant to the competition) to pull out of the event in Tel Aviv.
The band is on record as having supported Palestinian human rights, and it was reported at one stage that the Israeli government was considering banning the band from entering the country.
It is rumoured the band may make some sort of statement on stage, although that now seems unlikely, given the Israeli government’s threats.
But PACBI, the Palestinian group which advocated for cultural and academic boycott of Israel, stated that “artists who insist on crossing the Palestinian boycott picket line, playing Tel Aviv in defiance of our calls, cannot offset the harm they do to our human rights struggle by ‘balancing’ their complicit act with some project with Palestinians.”
Despite all of Israel’s propaganda efforts, it is starting to look like the event could be an embarrassing failure.
A recent article in Globes (essentially Israel’s imitation of the Financial Times) reported that an expected tourism boom fuelled by Eurovision had utterly failed to materialise.
As well as hotel prices being essentially back to normal for the time of year, “many tickets to the performances are still unsold,” the paper reported.
These performances with many unsold tickets include, “the finals, two semifinals and the rehearsals for each of these performances.”
“The situation in Israel is not normal,” William Lee Adams, a Eurovision blogger and fan, told the Jerusalem Post.
“I’ve never seen a situation where there are so many unsold seats this close to the show. Tickets to the live shows typically sell out immly after each wave of tickets is released,” he said.
Could all this be a sign that the publicity around the boycott of Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv is having a concrete economic effect? Is BDS beginning to bite?
It’s perhaps too soon to say for sure. According to the Globes piece, one factor causing the slower than usual ticket sales is that they have a higher-than-usual cost compared to previous Eurovision events in other countries.
But it seems likely that the fairly widely reported, and attention-grabbing BDS campaign against Eurovision in Tel Aviv is at least one factor causing woes for the ticket sellers.
Even the Guardian letter this week, by pro-Israel celebrities against the boycott (which was in fact organised by a front group for a pro-Israel lobby organisation) paradoxically created publicity for the boycott campaign for people who may not have been aware of its existence.
As PACBI put it in a recent Tweet, “No one wants to party with apartheid”.
It said that “Eurovision in apartheid Tel Aviv is set to be a flop for Israel’s complicit tourism sector.”
Israel needs to get the message: its problem is not bad public relations. The global public by and large actually understands pretty well that Israel’s real problem is the way it mistreats the indigenous people of the land – the Palestinians.
More distractions, white washes and “national projects” won’t fix this. Only the end of occupation and apartheid and the return of refugees will do that.