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For BDSers, Holding Eurovision in Israel Is a Bridge Too Far

Hardly anybody in America cares about the annual Eurovision Song Contest, and that's just as it should be, given that on the whole, it's almost as horrible a viewing experience these days as the Oscars or Emmys. But in Europe, Eurovision is as big as ever – almost as big a draw as the Super Bowl in the U.S., if you can imagine a Super Bowl that no straight man would ever be caught dead watching, but that is a magnet for gays, teenage girls, gays, a scattering of the senile and feebleminded who happened to have left their TVs tuned to the wrong channel, and gays.

First held in 1956, Eurovision is broadcast every year from the homeland of the winner of the previous year's contest. This year, the winner was an Israeli chanteuse named Netta, whose song was not appreciably better or worse than most of its competitors – which is to say that, for anyone with the slightest hint of musical taste, it was sheer dreck. But that's not what matters. On a continent with precious few cultural institutions to hold it together, or to provide a pretense of unity, Eurovision is, to coin a phrase, a bridge-builder.

For many, alas, Israel, this time around, has proven to be a bridge too far.

Israel has won Eurovision exactly three times before. The first time was in 1978; in 1979, accordingly, the competition was held in Jerusalem. Yes, Jerusalem, the city that European authorities today refuse to acknowledge as a part of Israel. Remarkably, Israel won Eurovision again in 1979, but wasn't able to serve as host in 1980 because the date conflicted with a national holiday. Israel had to wait until 1998 for its third victory. Its representative that year was an M-to-F transgender artist named Dana International, who sang a tune called “Diva.” In 1999, thanks to him/her, the contest again took place in Jerusalem.

There was, it should be said, some controversy in the run-up to the 1999 broadcast. The reason? Some orthodox Israeli Jews who hadn't liked the idea of their country being represented by an M-to-F transgender artist in the previous year's competition also opposed the idea of permitting the 1999 show to be aired on that artist's account from their religion's holiest city. But complain though they did, their opposition didn't keep the show from going on.

This year, too, there's controversy. Not because of orthodox Jews, but because of fanatical Jew-haters – namely, members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which in recent years has unfortunately succeeded in bullying a number of top-flight showbiz figures into canceling engagements in Israel. In Norway, the campaign against a Eurovision broadcast from Israel has been spearheaded by the Norwegian Palestine Committee. Icelanders have also been active opponents of an Israeli Eurovision: it didn't take long, after Netta won this year's contest, for about 17,000 Icelanders – 5 percent of the population – to sign a petition calling for an Israeli boycott. The movement also gained a lot of traction in Ireland, where a number of cultural bigwigs went on record in June as demanding that Eurovision reject Israel as a venue.