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France threatens to boycott Eurovision over Israel TV show

People take their seats as the Eurovision song contest begins [fotospielwiese/Flickr]
People take their seats as the Eurovision song contest begins [fotospielwiese/Flickr]

France has threatened to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest, citing a disagreement over an Israeli TV show which France claims negatively depicts its contestant.

The TV show – which is set to be aired in May by Israel’s Public Broadcaster Kan – reportedly tells the story of a French Eurovision contestant who is secretly a Daesh terrorist, and who uses the contest as an opportunity to stage a terrorist attack live on air.

France however is unhappy about the content of the series, with the French broadcasting authority yesterday telling Kan that, if the show aired, France would boycott this year’s Eurovision slated to be held in Israel in May. France claims that the TV series’ protagonist bears a striking resemblance to its Eurovision contestant, French-Moroccan Billal Hassani, Haaretz reported.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which produces the Eurovision Song Contest, has been forced to issue a statement on the dispute, saying: “The EBU is in discussions with the host broadcaster of Eurovision 2019, KAN, about the production, to ensure that the result will work for both sides.”

READ: France energy giant attacked by Israel over ‘boycott’

This year’s Eurovision has come under intense scrutiny in the year after Israeli Netta Barzilai won the 2018 competition, meaning this year’s contest is slated to be held in Israel. A number of high profile figures and organisations have called for a boycott of the competition in line with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for a boycott of Israeli cultural output that normalises the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

In January, over 60 international NGOs called for a boycott of Eurovision, writing in an open letter published by a Portuguese newspaper that “as with the fight against apartheid in South Africa, it is only through effective and sustained international pressure that Israel will be compelled to fulfil its obligations under international law and respect the human rights of the Palestinians.”

The move echoed a sentiment expressed earlier that week by 50 influential cultural figures who urged the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to boycott Eurovision. In a letter published by the Guardian, the artists wrote: “In May, the BBC intends to screen Eurovision 2019 from Israel. Eurovision may be light entertainment, but it is not exempt from human rights considerations – and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.” Among the letter’s signatories were fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, musician Roger Waters and actress Miriam Margolyes.

There are signs that BDS pressure is starting to bear fruit, with Israel announcing in September that it would host the competition final in Tel Aviv as opposed to Jerusalem, as it had originally planned. Although EBU’s Executive Supervisor for the Eurovision Song Contest, Ola Sand, said in a statement that Tel Aviv was chosen to host the contest because of its “creative and compelling bid,” fear of a widespread boycott and demonstrations were likely a motivating factor.

READ: UK band boycotts Eurovision to be held in Israel

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