Eurovision Arrives in Tel Aviv, in Range of Rockets and the Focus of Protests


TEL AVIV — The regulars at Tel Aviv’s Banana Beach had a clear view of the pyrotechnics when Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system fired at many incoming rockets in the dusk sky.

The port city of Ashdod, barely 20 miles down the coast, was under attack by militant groups in Gaza. The Banana Beach crowd was unfazed.

“We listened to the news then started packing up to go home, only because it was getting dark anyway,” said Giora Shmueli, 59, who had been kicking a ball around with friends in the sand.

Dozens of L.G.B.T. groups are boycotting the event. Some have canceled their Eurovision parties abroad and protests are planned. An Israeli anti-occupation group, Breaking the Silence, put up a large banner along the route from the airport offering visitors political tours of the West Bank, prompting an uproar.

That would have proved awkward, since most European countries do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Palestinians demand the city’s Israeli-annexed, eastern part as the capital of a future state.

Jerusalem has played host to Eurovision twice in the past, but both the city and the political climate have changed.

“I’m not disappointed, I’m indifferent,” Ms. Barzilai recently told reporters in Jerusalem. “I was brought up in the Israeli education and they teach you that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, so I went up on stage and said it,” she said. “I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about — Tel Aviv is 30 minutes away.”

KAN, the national broadcasting company and local Eurovision broadcaster, had planned to air a comedy mini-series about a fictional, gay French-Algerian singer, who becomes entangled in an Islamic State plot while representing France in an international song contest in Tel Aviv.

He noted that Ireland had been host to Eurovision several times during the years of conflict over Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

Mr. Mills said the Irish contestant had come under strong pressure from pro-Palestinian boycott activists to cancel her participation.

“But the Irish team stood their ground,” he said, adding that historically Eurovision has been about unity, not division.

It’s hard to know if the politics or the volatile security situation are to blame — perhaps Israel is just too expensive for many Eurovision fans — but ticket sales for events other than the finale have been slow, and Tel Aviv has hotel rooms to spare.

A few months ago, there was talk of tent cities and floating dorms on ships to accommodate the expected influx.

In the fraught atmosphere outside the bubble, even an edgy, self-deprecating promotional video for the show, produced by KAN and replete with “insider” Israeli humor, backfired.

Critics called it anti-Semitic for one of its lines — “most of us are Jews but only some of us are greedy” — and misogynistic because of a subtitle that replaced “beaches” with a vulgar word, in what was presumably meant to be a joke about Israeli-accented English. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry demanded that all promotional material filmed in Jerusalem be removed.

And in a sign of the times, with Gaza’s militant groups explicitly threatening to spoil the festivities if Israel does not meet their demands, Elia, the singing male protagonist in the video, sports a T-shirt for the Tel Aviv segments bearing the legend: “I love Iron Dome.”



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