September 23, 2018

Could The Iran Deal And BDS Hamper Israel’s Chances At Eurovision Competition?

Each year, hundreds of millions of people tune in to one of television’s most-watched non-sporting events: the Eurovision Song Contest.

Dozens of countries participating in the event submit an original song that is then performed on live television, with an expert jury and viewers voting for their favorite artist.

Though less well-known in the United States, the competition has come to represent European unity (or division, depending on who you ask) and also a symbol of the LGBT movement.

“Eurovision is one of the most popular television shows in Europe,” said Dr. Dean Vuletic, who first saw the song contest while he was studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1999.

Dr. Vuletic is the author of “Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest” (London: Bloomsbury, 2018) and a professor of history at the University of Vienna, Austria. The book, which was published earlier this year, provides an extensive look at the origins of Eurovision and how it evolved in parallel to developments in international relations.

“[Eurovision] has been very popular since its inception in 1956, and since then it has been held every year without fail,” he explained to The Media Line. “It has also reflected social and political changes in Europe.”

This year, the massively popular music contest being held in Lisbon Portugal, is taking place during a political climate marked by heightened tensions in the Middle East following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw Washington from the Iran nuclear deal. When President Trump announced the move, he specifically cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation last week which proved that Tehran had not come clean about its atomic activities.

Concurrently, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement was ramping up efforts to influence Europeans to vote against Israel’s entry, Netta Barzilai. With her highly creative song “Toy” already a hit across Europe, the Israeli pop star has risen to the top of the contest rankings (in third place as of this writing).

However, many are concerned the tense political climate following the U.S.’ pull-out from the Iran deal, coupled with a growing push by BDS proponents, could hamper her chances at winning.

“Many people watching are not interested in the music,” said Moshe Morad, an ethnomusicologist and the director of Israel’s public service music radio station 88FM. Morad previously served as the head of the Israeli delegation to the Eurovision.

“Last year I went as a guest of the Israeli delegation to Kiev,” he recalled to The Media Line. Just after [then-Israeli contender Imri Ziv] made it through to the semi-finals, many people in Europe were bombarded by messages from the BDS…and it’s happening again this year as well.”

Whereas some fear that BDS campaigners will influence voting, others are downplaying the role of politics in what many consider to be the highlight of the European cultural calendar.

“The BDS was here, is here and it will always be here,” said Amnon Szpektor, the Head of Press for the Israeli delegation at this year’s Eurovision. “If it were not Netta, [they would be going after] someone else,” he contended to The Media Line. “Netta Barzilai has a chance to win, we’re still in second or third place in the rankings.”

When asked whether he believed politics could influence the final outcome, Szpektor was adamant it would not. “Positive politics are involved [in the Eurovision]. People do vote for the countries they feel closest to, culturally speaking. It’s not surprising that countries with a similar language, and who have existed side by side for hundreds of years, would vote for each other.

“But there is no hate,” he concluded, noting that those in Israel convinced that people would vote against the Jewish State for political reasons were “mistaken.”

“People really like her message and her song.”

Dr. Vuletic agrees, telling The Media Line that while “nationalism is still essential to the contest,” the political aspects have been exaggerated and the impact of the voting blocs “has been minimized since 2009 with the reforms and the introduction of an expert jury.

“The situation [with the Iran deal and Israel] is still not severe enough for it to have an impact,” he added, going so far to suggest that “if Israel were to be attacked, that could [even] influence a sympathy vote for Israel.”

Historically, Dr. Vuletic conveyed, Israeli entries have won “in a climate of peace,” pointing to past winners Dana International and Izhar Cohen, both of whom won the contest in times of relative quiet.

Still, in recent days Barzilai has been surpassed by a new fan favorite: namely, Cyprus’ Eleni Foureira, who stole the show during the first round of semi-finals Tuesday night.

Szpektor seemed unsurprised that the representative from Cyprus had surpassed Barzilai in the rankings, as her appearance and performance were more in line with conventional standards of beauty.

“Netta doesn’t sound like anybody else and loves herself,” the public relations manager affirmed.

“It’s 2018, we deserve someone like her.”

The finals of the Eurovision Song Contest, which will crown the competition’s winner, will take place Saturday night.

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.