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'Are you brave enough?': RTÉ faced slew of demands to boycott in days leading up to Eurovision

RTÉ received dozens of emails in the days leading up to this year’s competition.

Flag. Shutterstock / OlegPandaBoev Shutterstock / OlegPandaBoev / OlegPandaBoev

NATIONAL BROADCASTER RTÉ received dozens of emails in the weeks leading up to Eurovision 2019 from members of the public and campaign groups ahead of the Israeli-hosted competition. 

Ireland’s Eurovision luck ran out by the semi-finals when Clare singer Sarah McTernan was eliminated. She performed the song 22 in the second semi-final but failed to make it further in the competition. 

The Netherlands went on to win the contest, claiming glory with piano-based power ballad Arcade. 

Yet for some people, music was irrelevant this year. 

Writing in the days before the finals, one person in Hawaii demanded RTÉ boycott Eurovision 2019 while Cork City Council called for Ireland’s withdrawal right up until final night in Tel Aviv. has previously reported on RTÉ’s diplomacy regarding the delicate matter of an Israeli-hosted Eurovision and public concerns in the year leading up to Eurovision 2019. 

RTÉ received over 250 emails from lobbying groups and members of the public in the 12 months prior to this year’s competition. 

From July 2018 onwards, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) led the charge in calling for a boycott of Eurovision 2019. In response, people emailed management at Montrose to say RTÉ was “doing the right thing” ignoring these calls.

The broadcaster consistently held the line that Eurovision is a non-political event and that no member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is boycotting this year’s competition. 

As security for the event in Israel increased from early May, one viewer wrote to express their “utter disappointment” to RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes that Ireland will participate in Eurovision 2019. 

“I am all on for talking to all sides in peace discussions but not for partying with oppressors while the oppressed are living in hellish conditions.”

They went on to urge Forbes to “take a stand for human rights” and pull Ireland’s participation which “will send out a strong message to Israel and the World.”

“Are you brave enough to take this stand Deirdre? I hope to God you are.”

‘A Propaganda Show’

Documents released to under the Freedom of Information Act earlier this year show that diplomacy was required as RTÉ management responded to calls from both sides of the political divide between June and December last year.

As part of its ‘Campaign to Boycott Eurovision 2019′, the IPSC gathered signatures in anticipation of a meeting with director general Forbes.

Shortly before RTÉ announced last September that it will not sanction any member of staff who doesn’t want to travel to Eurovision 2019, Forbes met with representatives of IPSC.

As the competition approached, pushback came from people who argued that boycotting the event “will have no relevance to or effect on Israel’s government and military activities” while another said such a move would be “an ineffective and counter-productive tool”.

By the time the finals kicked off, it was clear there’d be no RTÉ boycott of Eurovision 2019. 

Yet in the days beforehand, RTÉ received 70 emails from Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israel factions. 

Emailing in early May, one member of the public wrote:

“To all RTÉ staff,

“I am appealing to you all to take a stand for justice and humanity and please, please do not promote or participate in any way in the Eurovision this year. Please ask all your colleagues to do the same,” one person wrote on 4 May. 

Five days later, “an Irish taxpayer and TV Licence Holder” wrote to RTÉ to “strenuously” object to Ireland travelling to Israel.

“Plus it isn’t even in Europe,” they concluded. 

Participation in Eurovision is not determined by geographic locations but by membership of the EBU, which Israel has been a member of since 1957. 

Eurovision Song Contest 2019 DPA / PA Images Sarah McTernan performs on stage during the second semi-final in Tel Aviv. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

By mid-May, Ireland’s Eurovision delegation had landed in Tel Aviv. 

At the time, tensions were heating up on the ground with the Gaza-based Palestinian Artists Association saying that the Israeli state is using the event to “perpetuate oppression, promote injustice or whitewash a brutal apartheid regime”. 

The EBU said that the security of Eurovision contestants was paramount and that it was working with state broadcaster KAN as well as the Israeli army to monitor the situation in Tel Aviv.

Two months previously, members of the IPSC protested at Montrose on the day McTernan was announced as Ireland’s Eurovision entry.

Writing to RTÉ on 8 May, a resident of Kea’au, Hawaii asked that their subscription be cancelled in opposition to Eurovision 2019. 

For another viewer, “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians since 1948″ meant “neither I nor my family will be watching this year.”

And for one TV Licence Holder, writing on 15 May, Eurovision “this year has left a taste so bad, I’m not sure I’ll watch it again”. 

“Normally I’d finish correspondence with Le Meas, with respect” a Cork resident wrote to RTÉ in opposition to Eurovision 2019. “But in this instance I chose to withhold my respect until you do the right thing.”

‘Hateful Propaganda’

The following day, McTernan took to the stage to perform Ireland’s song 22.

After she failed to reach final, head of the Irish Delegation Michael Kealy, speaking on RTÉ’s Ray D’Arcy show, said the results showed that Ireland had a particularly difficult heat. 

“Naturally we were disappointed to see the results – especially when we know how talented our act Sarah McTernan is and how hard she and the team have worked over the past few months to prepare for this year’s contest in Tel Aviv,” he said.

It later emerged that due to a technical “scoring screw up“, the UK came dead last in this year’s competition and not McTernan. 

Across both semi-finals and final, an average of 242,000 viewers tuned in to watch Eurovision 2019 – 174,000 less than 2018′s competition in which Ireland reached the final. 

Not everyone who wrote to RTÉ called for a boycott, however. 

For one RTÉ viewer, writing on 16 May, the idea of boycotting Eurovision 2019 was “outrageous”. 

“Having been to Tel Aviv several times and viewed with my own eyes the harmony between Israeli Arabs, Jews, Secular and Christians, the hateful propaganda…against Israel is staggering.”

“The level of real ignorance about the actual reality in Israel is mind-boggling.”

Next year’s Eurovision will take place in The Netherlands. 

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