Why are many Eurovision fans boycotting the contest?

Queers for Palestine are calling for a Eurovision boycott in protest of Israel’s inclusion in the song contest.

Eden Golan rehearsing Hurricane ahead of the second Eurovision semi-final in Malmo. (Getty Images)
Eden Golan rehearsing Hurricane ahead of the second Eurovision semi-final in Malmo. (Getty Images)

The Eurovision Song Contest is a very special date in the diary for dedicated fans – but some of them will not be tuning in this year.

Eden Golan, the Israel entrant for the Eurovision Song Contest, will perform her song Hurricane in the semi-final tonight amid several campaigns to block the country from taking part this year following an outbreak of war in the Middle East.

A pro-Palestinian march will take place on Thursday, which the Swedish Police Authority said would cause "disturbance to traffic".

The Israel-born singer, who grew up in Russia, saw her original track, October Rain, cause controversy as the lyrics were thought to reference militant group Hamas kidnapping and killing Israelis on 7 October and has since been changed.

An official boycott of the Eurovision 2024 is being organised by Queers for Palestine in protest of Israel's inclusion in the song contest this year. More than 450 queer artists, individuals and organisations have signed an open letter calling on Olly Alexander to join the boycott and compete in Eurovision on behalf of the UK. The Years and Years singer has released a statement, explaining his decision to remain in the contest, despite supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.

So why will so many Eurovision fans be shunning the celebrations this year? Here is the reason for the boycott.

Netta Barzilai performs during the 64th annual Eurovision Song Contest in 2019
Netta Barzilai won Eurovision for Israel in 2018. (Getty)

Israel made its Eurovision debut in 1973. It became eligible after becoming part of the European Broadcasting Union, which is behind the event. The rule also allows countries like Azerbaijan, who hosted in 2012, and Georgia to compete.

Israel has won the contest four time. First in 1978 with the song A-Ba-Ni-Bi performed by Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta, the just one year later 1979 with the song Hallelujah performed by Milk and Honey. Dana International won with the song Diva in 1998 and in 2018 Netta Barzilai won with Toy.

 Palestinian families try to hold on to their daily lives among the rubble of the buildings after Israeli attacks on the Ash-Shujaiyye neighborhood, in Gaza City, Gaza on April 07, 2024. (Photo by Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Palestinian children among the rubble of the buildings after Israeli attacks on Gaza. (Anadolu via Getty Images)

Queers for Palestine are a group of more than more than 450 queer artists, individuals and organisations calling for a boycott of Eurovision. Among their members are the actor Maxine Peake, band Goat Girl and novelist and playwright Sarah Schulman, who argue that Israel’s presence in the competition helps to normalise the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

They are backed by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), which is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality, and who are calling for a full cultural boycott of Israel in protest against the conflict in Gaza.

Gaza, also known as the Gaza Strip, is a densely-populated Palestinian enclave on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, north-east of the Sinai Peninsula. Bound by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the north and east and Egypt to the south, it is just 25 miles long and six miles wide.

Israel launched its offensive on the Palestinian enclave in response to a surprise attack by Hamas on 7 October 2023, which saw 1,400 Israelis killed. Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out there have been calls from many leaders, governments, charities and other organisations, including the UN General Assembly for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

Olly Alexander, United Kingdom's entrant for the Eurovision Song Contest 2024, attends the red carpet at La Riviera during the Eurovision PreParty ES 2024 on March 30, 2024 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Patricia J. Garcinuno/Getty Images)
Queers For Palestine have called on Olly Alexander to boycott Eurovision. (Getty Images)

In March, Queers for Palestine wrote an open letter to Olly Alexander calling on him to pull out of Eurovision.

The letter, posted on Instagram, read: "We share the vision of queer joy and abundance you’ve offered through your music, and share your belief in collective liberation for all. In this spirit, we ask you to heed the Palestinian call to withdraw from Eurovision …

"There can be no party with a state committing apartheid and genocide. At a time when accountability is so urgently needed, Israel’s inclusion in Eurovision would enable and cover up its war crimes and crimes against humanity."

On 25 April, protests were held outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London by the LGTBQ+ solidarity group Queers For Palestine. Similar demonstrations were also held in Barcelona, Amsterdam Reykjavik.

A tunnel of hearts with the hashtag #eurovision2023 seen at the Royal Albert Docks in Liverpool ahead of the Eurovision final on the 13th May. The Eurovision Song Contest was won last year by Ukraine who are unable to host this year's contest due to the ongoing war with Russia. (Photo by Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Eurovision 2022 became a platform for peace in Ukraine after Russia was suspended from the contest over their invasion of the country. (Getty Images)

Russia was scheduled to participate in the Eurovision 2022 in Italy. But the country was suspended from the contest in February 2022 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That suspension remains in place and Russia may not participate in or broadcast the song contest.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2024 grand final is set to take place on 11 May in Malmö, Sweden, following semi-finals on 7 and 9 May. Israel is among those competing in the semis, represented by Eden Golan singing her song Hurricane, leading to calls calls for Eurovision to suspend Israel from the competition.

But the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) have refused, saying: "The Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for public service broadcasters from across Europe and the Middle East. It is a competition for broadcasters – not governments – and the Israeli public broadcaster has participated in the contest for 50 years."

Olly Alexander onstage during the London Eurovision Party 2024 at Outernet London on April 07, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
Olly Alexander has said he hopes to use his platform in the contest to promote peace. (Getty Images)

The Years and Years frontman has defended his decision to remain in the song contest, representing the UK with his song Dizzy. The 33-year-old singer and actor released a response to the calls for him to join the boycott on social media platform X.

The It's A Sin star said: "I wholeheartedly support action being taken to demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, the return of all hostages and the safety and security of all civilians in Palestine and Israel.

"I know some people will choose to boycott this year’s Eurovision and I understand and respect their decision. As a participant I’ve taken a lot of time to deliberate over what to do and the options available to me. It is my current belief that removing myself from the contest wouldn’t bring us any closer to our shared goal."

Alexander revealed that he has discussed the boycott with his fellow contestants and said they hoped to "use our platform to come together and call for peace." He added: "I hope and pray that our calls are answered and there is an end to the atrocities we are seeing taking place in Gaza."

Irish entrant Bambie Thug along with Norway’s Gate, Portugal’s Iolanda, San Marino’s band Megara, Switzerland’s Nemo, Lithuanian singer Silvester Belt and Finland’s Windows95Man/Teemu Keisteri have all rejected calls to boycott the contest.

However, in a joint statement they did call for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and the safe return of all hostages” and said they “stand united against all forms of hate, including antisemitism and Islamophobia”.

Thug also told the PA news agency that they “do not agree with the decision” the EBU made by allowing Israel to take part.

“I am pro-Palestine through and through and without us there, there would be less voices that are pro,” they also said.

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