Why BDS can't topple Eurovision

The boycott movement will continue to make a lot of noise ahead of the contest in May, but it doesn’t present an existential threat to the Tel Aviv show.

BDS activists call on artists to shun Eurovision in Israel, January 1, 2019 (Reuters)
When a headlining act books a concert in Israel, there’s always a niggling fear that they might end up canceling. That faced with a vocal and furious boycott movement, a musician may bow to pressure and pull out of a show.
Recently, singers Lana Del Rey and Lorde both booked shows in Israel and then canceled them, citing political reasons. And from the moment Netta Barzilai won the contest for Israel in Lisbon last year, voices have been clamoring to prevent the Eurovision from taking place in Israel. There have been numerous petitions, public letters and protests over the past nine months all aimed at bringing down the Israel-hosted 2019 Eurovision.
But they have essentially been completely unsuccessful. And with just over 100 days left until the Eurovision kicks off in Tel Aviv, it is clear that the BDS movement doesn’t represent an existential threat to the competition.
While several national broadcasters made noises about pulling out of the competition last year, nobody followed through with their threat. Already last year, 42 countries committed to appearing at the Eurovision in Tel Aviv – making a financial and legal commitment that is very difficult to reverse. Only one country that appeared at the 2018 competition won’t be returning in 2019: Bulgaria, which pulled out for financial reasons.
The public broadcasters of all 41 visiting countries are moving full steam ahead with their plans for the competition this year. Thirteen of the 42 countries have already selected their contestant for this year, and the rest are slated to do so in the coming month.
The most recent BDS action against the Eurovision – a letter earlier this month to the BBC from Roger Waters and his cohorts – failed in spectacular fashion. The letter, signed by 50 artists, asked the BBC not to take part in the Eurovision in Tel Aviv, urging the British public service broadcaster to push for the contest to be held elsewhere. The BBC quickly responded that it had no intention of doing so, and it will definitely be taking part in this year’s competition.
That isn’t to say that the BDS movement will stop trying. Nor does it mean they won’t find any success. While the existence of the competition itself is not under threat, boycott activists have been and will continue to target individual contestants.
LAST MONTH, the BDS movement sent letters to many individuals who are competing to represent their countries at this year’s competition. A copy of one such letter, made available to The Jerusalem Post, told one Eurovision hopeful that: “We hope you are able to make a fully informed decision, because many of your fans would be saddened if you decided to play in Israel, given what is happening to the Palestinian people there – living under siege, or occupation, as refugees, or as second class citizens.” The letter concluded: “Eurovision will happen again in 2020. We hope you will choose to be a contestant then rather than in Israel in 2019.”
It is certainly possible that over the next three months, Eurovision contestants will pull out of the 2019 contest. Those artists – who are often young and relative newcomers to the music world – could succumb to pressure and the likely online campaign waged against their participation. But the BDS forces will be coming up against a formidable foe: national pride. Every country appearing in Tel Aviv this May is hoping to win the competition and bring the contest home next year (with the exception of Australia, which is not eligible to host since it isn’t a full member of the European Broadcasting Union).
The BDS activists are correct that “Eurovision will happen again in 2020” – but if countries don’t take part, they lose any chance of hosting the 2020 competition.
Even if all 42 competitors appear as scheduled in May, it is unlikely that BDS activists will rest during the week of the Eurovision competition. Millions around the world watched as two stage invaders grabbed the microphone from UK contestant SuRie last year, to shout something incomprehensible about “Nazis of the UK media.” While security is always tight at the Eurovision, things will certainly be stepped up this year, and local and international organizers will be on alert for those seeking to disrupt the proceedings.
Eurovision organizers will and should be alert to BDS efforts to disrupt this year’s competition, an event slated to attract tens of thousands of tourists and be watched by millions of fans around the world. While BDS may still have a few battles ahead, it has decidedly lost the war.