#TrendingNews Blog Business Entertainment Environment Health Lifestyle News Analysis Opinion Science Sports Technology World News
A War Of Songs: Why The Stage Becomes Battlefield

Image credit: eurovision.tv



It has recently been confirmed that Israel will be allowed to participate in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden. The country’s inclusion in the event has been called into question in the last few months, with both supporters and detractors offering valid insights to promote their stances. 


In 2022, the contest’s organisers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), faced a similar situation with Russia, another contestant directly involved in the widespread conflict. However, unlike Israel, Russia was unanimously condemned for its active role in an ongoing war and excluded not only from Eurovision but from other major competitions worldwide. It is fundamental to examine the participation criteria applied by the EBU and each country’s roles in their respective conflicts to understand whether the discrepant reaction is a product of fair judgement or hypocrisy.


The discourse surrounding Israel and Eurovision may not seem of major importance compared to the ongoing events in Gaza, yet its role in the unfolding war is undeniable. Eurovision is one of the most followed broadcasts worldwide, with over 160 million viewers tuning in to enjoy the show last year. As such, it is a prime opportunity for participants to make a receptive audience aware of their pleas on live TV and social media. Regardless of its self-proclaimed non-political nature, the contest provides the ideal stage for gathering popular support and improving a country’s public image behind its glitzy smoke and mirrors.


There are recent examples highlighting the inescapable politicisation of Eurovision. Both of Ukraine’s two victories in the last ten years happened when warring tensions with Russia were at an all-time high. In 2016, shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine’s Jamala won with a song recalling Stalin’s exile of Crimean Tatars in 1944. The song was allowed to compete despite its political nature because of the historical connotation of the events portrayed. In 2022, after the start of the Russian invasion, Russia was excluded from Eurovision, and Ukraine won with the highest number of points in the contest’s history. Ukraine’s original contestant for that year, Alina Pash, was forced to cease her participation after receiving heavy online harassment due to a trip she took to Russian-annexed Crimea in 2015. She was labelled as ‘un-Ukrainian’ and accused of breaking the law by entering the region via Russia rather than Ukraine.


Ukraine Eurovision Support

Image credit: Reuters


Israel itself has been contested before. In 2019, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) called for a boycott of that year’s Eurovision, set to be held in Tel Aviv. BDS motivated their request by claiming Israel’s advertisement for the event would ‘whitewash’ its policies towards Gaza and the West Bank. The country was also accused of exploiting Eurovision to ‘pinkwash’ its image, appearing more liberal and accepting of LGBT+ rights than it was.


An even more recent example of the political controversy surrounding the contest is the petitions signed in favour and against Israel’s participation in 2024. In January, over 1,400 Finnish and Icelandic musicians signed a petition demanding Israel’s ban. The Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) threatened to boycott the competition should Israel be allowed to take part (though they have since confirmed they will still participate in the contest). Yle stated that they would not support ‘a country that commits war crimes and continues military occupation,’ claiming that Eurovision would allow Israel to ‘polish its image in the name of music.’ An opposing petition organised by the Creative Community for Peace was signed by more than 400 celebrities, including Helen Mirren, Boy George, and Gene Simmons. The letter states that ‘unifying events such as singing competitions are crucial to helping bridge our cultural divide,’ and that excluding Israel would ‘turn [Eurovision] from a celebration of unity into a tool of politics.’ 


The tug-of-war between pro and anti-boycott reignited this week when the title and lyrics of the Israeli entry, ‘October Rain’, were revealed to reference current political events, in a clear breach of Eurovision’s regulations. The examples above demonstrate how interconnected the song contest and world politics are and why many countries would want to take part in it, musical glory aside. Yet, organisers firmly state that the event is apolitical. The EBU director general, Noel Curran, recently emphasised how Eurovision is ‘a non-political music event and competition between public service broadcasters…not a contest between governments.’ This statement, which was echoed in many pro-inclusion requests, is the key motivation given for Israel’s participation.


What is so different between Israel’s and Russia’s situations that prompts the exclusion of only one of the two warring countries, if the contest is completely separate from politics? Why haven’t celebrities voiced their support for Russia’s participation in the name of peace and ‘building bridges’? When asked, Curran refused to compare wars, backing the exclusion with claims that including Russia would ‘bring the competition into disrepute.’ He specified that the Russian broadcasters, Channel One and VGTRK, had been suspended from the EBU because they were tools of their government's political propaganda. However, the EBU had originally confirmed that both Ukraine and Russia could still take part in Eurovision. It was only after the Ukrainian broadcaster UA: PBC appealed to suspend the Russian channels from the union and to ban Russia from competing that the EBU’s stance on the issue changed. The decision was cemented following other members’ complaints about Russian participation.


The motivations behind the opposing reactions to Israel’s and Russia’s ties with Eurovision mentioned above seem contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst. First, it appears that certain countries’ internal and external affairs are judged through different lenses. Russia and Israel are both currently at war. The former launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with unrest and violence in the Donbas and Lugansk regions ongoing since 2014. Airstrikes hit multiple cities across Ukraine, including Kyiv, causing immediate international condemnation. Putin’s objective to protect Russian minorities in Ukraine and ‘sanitise’ the country has been condemned as dehumanising and genocidal by the US think tank Atlantic Council. A general outcry followed claims that Russia bombed hospitals and ambulances, which are guaranteed protected status under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). After over 700 days of struggle, about 500,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and 10,000 civilians are estimated to have perished.


Ukraine vows to hold on to Bakhmut despite Russian onslaught | AP News

Image credit: AP Photo/Roman Chop


Similarly, Israel also justified its ongoing invasion of Gaza as a protective reaction to foreign provocation, following the October 7th Hamas-orchestrated terror attack that killed approximately 1,200 civilians and saw 253 taken hostage. In just 137 days, Israel’s indiscriminate bombing killed over 30,000 Palestinian civilians, mainly children, women, and the elderly, three times the number of civilian casualties in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, with 2.3 million people crammed in a mere 350 km2 (roughly half the size of New York, but with less-than-optimal infrastructure). Besides civilian casualties, Palestinians were ordered by the Israeli government to evacuate to ‘safe zones’ in the south of the Strip, which were later bombed, causing further deaths. Now, more than half of the population is seeking refuge in Rafah, an area as small as Heathrow Airport. There are also videos claiming to show the bombing of hospitals and ambulances by the Israeli army.


Gaza War

Image credit: Reuters


The culprits and origins behind the events of the Russo-Ukrainian and Israel-Gaza wars are not easily verifiable, but the similarities between the two are undeniable, and crimes committed by either should be subject to the same tenets of international law. The United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention defines genocide as a series of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group. These acts have been reported in both conflicts, yet repercussions seem to apply to one party and not the other.


Putin was issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the grounds of forcibly transferring Ukrainian children to Russian territory, an act (e) of genocide according to the UN. Yet, the destruction of hospitals and blockage of humanitarian aid in Gaza is causing babies to be born prematurely due to the mother’s poor health and stress, in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. This recalls act (d) of the Genocide Convention, ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.’ The other three acts (killing members of the group, causing bodily or mental harm, and deliberately inflicting life conditions calculated to destroy the group) apply to both conflicts.


So why can Israel participate in the greatest song contest in the world but Russia cannot? Perhaps the answer lies not with them, but with their opponents. Ukraine is a recognised European country with a majority white population and increasingly close ties with NATO and the EU. On the contrary, Gaza is not universally recognised by governing bodies (although 139 countries currently recognise it as an independent state, including Ukraine), so it does not hold much sway on the international scene. Its people are majority Muslim and many of them live in restricted areas, with fewer legal rights. The EBU needs to update its participation policies to reflect the similar situations Israel and Russia find themselves in now or risk damaging its reputation, possibly irreparably, by exposing the hypocrisy, latent racism, and classism behind its regulations.

Share This Post On


Leave a comment

You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in