Image: BBC Pictures.

Is there a country that can host Eurovision without generating controversy?

The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest has been followed by controversy from the moment that Israeli artist Netta claimed victory at the 2018 event.

Initially, the competition was expected to be held in Jerusalem. However, this led to a number of concerns over using a venue in the city to host. Orthodox Jews from the area opposed to holding the competition in Jerusalem if it was to take place over the Sabbath, a legitimate concern for practising Jews. Jerusalem also ran into hot water over the movement of the US embassy – seen by many as an expression of Trump’s view on where the legitimate capital of Israel is. Jerusalem does not have full international recognition as the capital of Israel because of conflicting land claims. The European Broadcasting Union have since requested that artists be allowed to hold general rehearsals on the Shabbat, and that all entrants are granted visas, no matter their political views.

by allowing Israel to host the competition, oppression and apartheid is being “art washed”

Tel Aviv was chosen as the host city – a natural choice given its international reputation as a home for creative arts and gay culture. But recently, a more serious challenge to Israel hosting the event altogether has been mounted. A number of influential cultural figures in Britain have penned a letter to the BBC, calling on them to put pressure on Eurovision to relocate the competition. The group includes fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, filmmaker Ken Loach and musician Peter Gabriel, amongst others. In the letter, published in The Guardian, the group claimed that winning the You Decide competition to represent the United Kingdom in Tel Aviv would be a “dubious honour” and that even entertainment shows like Eurovision cannot “ignore Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights” or be “exempt from human rights considerations”. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement claim that, by allowing Israel to host the competition, oppression and apartheid is being “art washed”.

My question to this collection of creatives is this – where was the outrage before?

In the letter, the commitment of the BBC to champion free expression is raised. Why then, was there no call for the competition to move when it was held in Azerbaijan in 2012, a country that Human Rights Watch described as having a “dramatic deterioration” in freedom of expression and assembly in their 2013 report? If there is a concern about the “discrimination and exclusion” in Israel, why did no one speak out against Russia’s rates of racially motivated crime or the situation for LBGT+ people in Chechnya when the competition was held there in 2009? The plight of these people is no less deserving than that of the Palestinians, and yet there was silence in response to the competition’s location.

there has to be consideration of the underlying implications of being so vocal on its human rights record but staying silent on every other state’s

To BDS, I ask, how are isolation and hostility going to make a government change its mind? What about the innocent Israelis who do not agree with the actions of Netanyahu’s government, but who have to suffer anyway? Israel is constantly held to a higher standard than other countries. As the world’s only Jewish state, there has to be consideration of the underlying implications of being so vocal on its human rights record but staying silent on every other state’s. In my opinion, bringing people together – building bridges – is far more important in achieving peace between Israel and Palestine, and a solution where the two states can exist harmoniously.

Hosting Eurovision is a great honour and not one that should look past the values that Eurovision, and more broadly Europe, hold of high importance. However, selectively caring about human rights abuses to advance a political point which is entangled with anti-Semitism is not the way to make a change. We should allow art to flourish, allow people to express political opinions through songs, allow Israel to host Eurovision.

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