Israel selects its Eurovision contestant amid calls for country to be banned from competition

LONDON: Israel has chosen singer Eden Golan to be its representative at the Eurovision Song Contest. It comes as organizers of the competition continue to face mounting international pressure to exclude the country over the war in Gaza.

Golan, 20, was selected during a TV talent show on which she performed the Aerosmith hit, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” But musicians from several countries have called Eurovision organizers to suspend Israel from the competition.

The actions of the Israeli military in Gaza render the participation of the country in an event “characterized by joy and optimism” impossible, Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists said in December. A petition in the country calling for Israel to be banned from this year’s event, and for Iceland to withdraw if it is not, attracted about 10,000 signatures, about 3 percent of the country’s population.

In Finland, more than 1,400 music industry professionals signed an open letter accusing national broadcaster Yleisradio Oy of double standards, given that it was among the first to call for a Eurovision ban on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

“We expect the same active defending of values from Yle now as well,” they said.

Musicians in Norway and Denmark signed similar letters calling for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision, and in Sweden, pop stars Robyn, Fever Ray and First Aid Kit, signed an open letter accusing Israel of war crimes.

“Allowing Israel’s participation undermines not only the spirit of the competition but the entire public service mission,” they wrote.

Before he was chosen to represent the UK at Eurovision, singer Olly Alexander signed a statement accusing Israel of genocide, the BBC reported on Thursday.

Despite the international pressure, Eurovision organizers have resisted calls to exclude Israel, citing key differences between the situations in Ukraine and Gaza.

“Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a nonpolitical media organization, not ours to make,” said Noel Curran, the director general of the European Broadcasting Union.

“We understand the concerns and deeply held views around the current conflict in the Middle East” but Eurovision is “not a contest between governments,” he added.

“The EBU is aligned with other international organizations, including sports unions and federations and other international bodies, that have similarly maintained their inclusive stance toward Israeli participants in major competitions at this time.”

Since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, Israel’s relentless bombardment and military operations in Gaza have killed nearly 28,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The war in Gaza has cast a long shadow over Israel’s televised Eurovision selection process, which was originally scheduled to take place in October. Three singers who had auditioned for the show were among those killed by Hamas on Oct. 7 during the Supernova Music Festival, the BBC reported.

Another contestant, 26-year-old Shaul Greenglick, withdrew from the competition in December when his military reservist duties resumed. He was killed in Gaza on Dec. 26.

Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, which is responsible for the selection of the country’s Eurovision entry, has mandated that Golan’s song must include some Hebrew lyrics “in light of the complicated period.”

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