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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C

'Hugely embarrassing': Emails to RTÉ show pushback against calls for Eurovision boycott

RTÉ received almost three times as many emails objecting to a boycott as emails calling for one between January and April.

shutterstock_422767261 Shutterstock / danielo Shutterstock / danielo / danielo

IRELAND’S EUROVISION ENTRY Sarah McTernan will compete in the second semi-final of the competition tonight amid heightened security on the ground in host city Tel Aviv.

Eurovision 2019 is contentious, however. Calls for a boycott have grown louder in recent months whilst others have labelled such calls “anti-Semitic”, arguing that Eurovision is an apolitical event. 

National broadcaster RTÉ received over 100 emails between January and April from members of the public and campaign groups ahead of this year’s song contest, correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows.  

People calling for a Eurovision boycott contacted management at Montrose to urge RTÉ to “take a stance” and “show some back bone” by not taking part this year while those supporting Eurovision 2019 were quick to point out the “non-political” nature of the competition. 

RTÉ has consistently held the line that Eurovision is a non-political musical event. That didn’t prevent almost 130 emails and letters being sent between January and April – and dozens more being sent last year – to Director General Dee Forbes, Irish Delegation Head producer Michael Kealy and RTÉ’s press office by people both urging a boycott and objecting to one. 

‘Any excuse’

The exact same wording sent in late February from 22 locations worldwide including Melbourne, New York City and the Czech Republic, shows a concerted effort to impress upon RTÉ that any boycott of Eurovision 2019 would be “immoral and mean-spirited”.

RTÉ, the emails said, “is doing the right thing” ignoring these calls, led largely by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) since last year. 

“The boycotters are looking for any excuse to try and disrupt the competition,” the email states. 

“This time their gripe is that KAN, the Israeli broadcaster, is issuing 500 rehearsal tickets to IDF soldiers, and expectations that the traditional ‘visual postcards’ broadcast during the show will include images from the Golan Heights and the City of Jerusalem,” the email states.

‘Visual postcards’ during Eurovision are montage segments of musical acts visiting famous sites and spots in host countries.

The letter goes on to thank Forbes and RTÉ for their “continued and principled stand in not supporting the immoral and divisive Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”. 

Tel Aviv DPA / PA Images Tel Aviv, Israel DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Since Israeli singer Netta won last year’s contest, IPSC and the global BDS movement have called for countries to boycott Eurovision 2019. 

Between June and December last year, RTÉ representatives responded internally to emails and letters in relation to those for and against a boycott.

This began before Ireland confirmed its participation in this year’s competition, and has continued afterwards. From January, however, RTÉ management largely stopped discussing emails from both sides, the most recent correspondence shows. 

In June, one month after Netta won in Lisbon and three months before Ireland declared its intention to travel to the Middle East to compete in Eurovision 2019, Channel 10 News in Israel wrote to RTÉ asking why the national broadcaster had yet to confirm its participation in the event. 

Following the publication of this correspondence by earlier this year, one woman wrote to RTÉ to express her embarrassment at the situation. 

“It is hugely embarrassing to me as an Irish woman and as someone who works in the media, that several media outlets, including Channel 10 News in Israel felt compelled to write to RTÉ asking why my national broadcaster had yet to confirm its participation in the event,” they wrote. 

At the same time as the email from 22 different locations was sent to RTÉ, the IPSC reiterated its concerns to RTÉ via email that Ireland should not send an act to Tel Aviv and its hope that the national broadcaster would “stand on the right side of history”.

RTÉ has said it won’t sanction staff members who do not wish to travel to Israel for this year’s competition and has said that its coverage of the event will include reporting on the ongoing conflict. 

The IPSC has so far gathered over 16,000 signatures calling for an Irish boycott of the competition. 

‘Hard-earned money’

In March, members of the IPSC protested at Montrose on the day Sarah McTernan was announced as Ireland’s 2019 Eurovision entry.

Following the protest at RTÉ, the broadcaster received correspondence from one TV License holder who objected to Ireland’s participation in Eurovision 2019 due to the “subjugation and maltreatment of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli state”. 

For this reason, I am urging RTÉ to immediately announce its withdrawal from this contest.  

Two weeks previously, another “faithful TV license payer” told RTÉ they wouldn’t “pay hard-earned money to an organisation that caves into a small number of lobbyists”. 

It was not just concerned individuals who contacted the national broadcaster as this year’s competition drew nearer. 

Groups like Northern Ireland Friends of Israel and Creative Community for Peace also urged RTÉ to take part in Eurovision 2019, documents show. 

RTÉ has consistently held the line that Eurovision is a non-political event and that no member of the European Broadcasting Union is boycotting this year’s competition. 

Boycott Eurovision protest at RTE Studios PA Wire / PA Images Fatin Al Tamimi, National Chairperson with Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

Ireland Palestine Alliance group Sadaka, as well as Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan also wrote to RTÉ calling for a boycott in late February. 

Meanwhile, in March and April, Sligo County Council, Derry City and Strabane District Council wrote to RTÉ following council motions calling on RTÉ to boycott this year’s Eurovision. 

Earlier this week, Galway City Council became the latest local authority to call on RTÉ to boycott Eurovision 2019. 

Last year, RTÉ management found itself practicing diplomacy by addressing issues internally around calls for a boycott.

The Eurovision delegation and RTÉ’s press office responded to emails pointing out that the event is apolitical in nature and that no other EBU member was boycotting this year’s contest. 

But the vast majority of the nearly 130 emails sent between January and April were not responded to.

Writing in March, one person 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”.

“I realise everyone in RTÉ is busy and would rather not have to reply to every crank email,” this person wrote. “I sincerely hope common sense prevails and RTÉ continues to provide an excellent service”. 

Israel Eurovision Song Contest AP / PA Images Statue of Israel's Netta Barzilai at this year's Eurovision village. AP / PA Images / PA Images

As the final approaches, tensions have heated up on the ground in Tel Aviv 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 also said last week 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.

Israel said it won’t allow in activists who plan to disrupt this year’s competition by blocking them from entering the country.

Yesterday, Palestinian protesters were wounded during protests to mark the anniversary of their mass displacement and the creation of Israel in 1948.

The demonstrations came two weeks after a ceasefire was announced to end two days of fighting in the region.

For some, Eurovision means Eurovision. 

“Netta, as you know, is one of the most extraordinary talents we’ve seen emerge from Eurovision,” one citizen wrote to RTÉ in late February. 

“Israel is an old, much-loved Eurovision face: she’s competed 41 times and won 4 times.”

“In other words, better than the UK’s record!”

“It would be such a shame to make your audience miss out on such talent spotting this year – which, as well as being one of the campest, glitziest, partylicious nights of the year, is what Eurovision is all about.”

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