Middle East Politics Having a Big Effect on Eurovision Song Contest
Performers from 41 countries gathered in Tel Aviv's "Culture Square" last weekend for the opening ceremony for Eurovision 2019.
The 64th Eurovision Song Contest holds semi-final events this week in Tel Aviv, Israel's show business capital. The contest will end on Saturday, when the winner is announced.
The Eurovision finals are being held in Israel because Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the event last year. The winning country usually hosts the competition the following year.
Cypriot singer Tamta was the first contestant to walk the orange carpet in Culture Square. Reporters and camera crews followed her every move.
"Everyone is excited in my team. I'm really happy to be here," she said.
DJ Darude of Finland said artists behind the scenes at the festival were "slapping high-fives and having a good time."
Security and politics
The Eurovision song contest is taking place at a time of security concerns in Israel and calls for a boycott.
Contest organizers are worried about recent violence between Israel and Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. For now, a ceasefire that went into effect over a week ago has been holding.
Security in and around Tel Aviv has been increased over fears that activists may try to disrupt the competition.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions or BDS movement is a Pro-Palestinian group. It aims to pressure governments, companies, performers and others to cut ties with Israel. It has called on singers and broadcasters to withdraw from the 2019 Eurovision finals.
No delegations have yet pulled out of the competition.
Israel has launched a counter-campaign, criticizing BDS and accusing some of the group's supporters of hating Jews or having ties to militant groups such as Hamas. BDS leaders reject these claims.
Pop star Madonna is supposed to make a guest appearance at the Eurovision finals on Saturday. She has rejected calls to boycott the event.
"I'll never stop playing music to suit someone's political agenda," she said in a statement to the Reuters news agency. "Nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be."
John Kennedy O'Connor wrote the official history of the Eurovision Song Contest. He noted that "there's definitely more controversy around Israel's contest than past ones."
I'm John Russell.