Heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and retaliatory missile attacks are worrying the world again, also the organizers of the huge Eurovision Song Contest. Since Israel won the contest last year, Eurovision is supposed to be broadcast from Tel Aviv later this spring, but its Norwegian boss is concerned.
“This is a serious escalation of the conflict (between Israel and the Palestinians), and we’re very concerned about it,” Jon Ola Sand, who’s responsible for carrying out the annual song contest for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday.
“We’re following the situation closely through our own security experts, Israeli authorities and the Israeli state broadcaster,” added Sand, who carries the title of “executive supervisor” for Eurovision. “There’s not much else we can do right now.”
With Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu running for re-election and the Palestinians as frustrated as ever over being relegated to what Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) called “the largest outdoor prison in the world (Gaza),” the two sides have literally flared up this week. The skies over the region between Tel Aviv and Gaza have been illuminated once again in recent days.
“We always have a Plan B,” Sand told Aftenposten, “but I can’t say we have a good replacement for Eurovision in Tel Aviv. That’s where we want to be, and it’s what we’re working towards.”
No withdrawals yet
The huge song contest literally brings Europe and EBU members like Israel together once a year. It’s never been cancelled in its 64-year history.
Sand declined to elaborate on the details of Eurovision’s “Plan B.” Asked if he feared some artists will withdraw from the contest because of safety concerns in Tel Aviv, he said that may happen “but we haven’t had any indication of that so far.” He added that daily life in Tel Aviv was proceeding as normal.
“The situation for our people in the city is not viewed as dramatic,” Sand said. “But that can change quickly.” Norway will be represented at Eurovision by the Sami-Norwegian band KEiiNO, whose members were in Tel Aviv this week to film videos that are shown during the competition.
Sand noted that attempts can always be made to use Eurovision politically: “Several organizations, groups and individuals have called for a boycott of Eurovision in Tel Aviv, and we are prepared that can continue right up to the final (which is scheduled for May 18 this year). As of today there’s little to indicate this year’s final will be used in some big political initiative, but there can surely be a lot of noise.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli authorities can’t offer any guarantees that missiles won’t be fired at Tel Aviv during the competition. It runs for a week including two semi-finals on May 14 and May 16.
Aftenposten reported that the leader of the Norwegian Eurovision fan club (called Melodi Grand Prix in Norway) is among those heading for Tel Aviv along with around 40 other fans. Morten Thomassen said there were far fewer traveling to Eurovision this year, however, “but that’s also because of the ticket prices. When it costs NOK 10,000 (nearly USD 1,200) for a place to stand in front of the stage, there are many who are staying home.”