“WE used to have small parties me and my partner. Particularly the older Eurovision contests with all the quirky acts, you’d be laughing along with them.”

For Gerry Coutts, a member of the Scottish Friends of Palestine, the Eurovision Song Contest used to be something joyous, an occasion to get together with friends and take in what is supposed to be a celebration of inclusion and diversity.

This year however, he’ll be among the many fans boycotting the event over Israel’s inclusion in the competition despite the ongoing bombardment of Gaza.

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The National has spoken with a number of activists who will be boycotting this weekend’s event on why what they’re doing matters, what the impact could be on the contest in the future, and the “hypocrisy” of organisers.

Why does boycotting Eurovision matter?

Naomi Junnor, a Jewish pro-Palestine campaigner with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), told The National she believed boycotting Eurovision is crucial.

“The reason I’m doing this is because I believe in equal rights for all humans but we’re seeing the most accelerated murder of innocent people, so many babies and children.

“But we’re giving the green light to Israel that they are part of everyday life and that is unacceptable to me because it re-enforces a huge inequality for Palestinians.”

Thousands of pro-Palestine protesters took to the streets in Malmo on Thursday ahead of the semi-final, where Israel’s act Eden Golan was met with booing and chants of “free Palestine”.

Eurovision bills itself as a non-political event and organisers have thus far resisted calls to remove Israel from the competition. However, Russia was barred in 2022 after it invaded Ukraine.

As well as Junnor, Coutts said he will also be boycotting this weekend but wanted to stress that his action was not aimed at Golan.

“Let’s not forget, this is not personally against the singer but the act is representing the state of Israel in this. There is not a boycott of individual Israelis,” he said.

“The flag of each country is up there, but it’s not individual because the acts change every year to represent their country.”

‘Hypocrisy’ of Eurovision organisers

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has so far defended Israel’s inclusion in the event, with its director general Jean Philip De Tender telling Sky News: “We do understand the concerns and deeply held views around the war in the Middle East.

“The song contest is a music event organised and co-produced by 37 public broadcasters, it’s not a competition between nations or governments.

“Our governing bodies reviewed the participation of KAN (Israel’s public broadcaster) and found that they met all of the competing rules.”

The National: Israel's Eden Golan will take part in Saturday's contest. Image: Jessica Gow/TT News Agency via AP.

However, both Junnor and Coutts told The National they felt organisers were being “hypocritical” given that Russia was previously banned from the contest.

“There’s a huge element of hypocrisy because as far as I’m aware Russia remains barred from the contest and other world events while Israel gets a free pass to perform against other nations and proudly fly its flag,” Coutts said.

Eurovision has also previously issued a statement on this, saying “the Russian public service broadcasters had their EBU membership suspended in 2022 due to consistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service media values”.

Junnor however added: “The hypocrisy of denying Russia access when they’re waging war in Ukraine is blatant and deeply offensive to those who believe in equal rights.”

Will boycotting Eurovision make an impact?

For Eurovision expert Dr Paul Jordan, who published his PhD on the competition and has worked behind the scenes, boycotting isn’t necessarily going to have an impact.

“I understand feelings are high on both sides but the contest is going ahead anyway,” he said.

“No country has withdrawn. People are boycotting and not watching but I don’t know how effective that’s going to be.

“Israel is still in the competition. I feel it’ll probably be ineffective but understand why people want to do something.”

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Junnor disagrees however, saying that it must be known that allowing Israel’s participation would simply be “normalising their relationship in the world”.

Likewise, Coutts says a cultural boycott will help send a message of solidarity to Palestinians.

It is estimated that around 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, with a further 77,000 injured.

Israel has so far strongly denied it is committing genocide, after a ruling from the International Court of Justice in January which found it is “plausible” Israel has committed acts that violate the Genocide Convention.

The National: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a meeting of his cabinet on Sunday (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

It described the accusation as “baseless” with the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (above) saying at the time: “Nobody will stop us – not The Hague.”

Non-political language at Eurovision

The EBU has stressed that Eurovision should be a “non-political” event although has said it respects the rights of those wanting to protest peacefully.

Earlier this week, organisers said writing on Irish contestant Bambie Thug’s body in support of Palestine “contravened contest rules that are designed to protect the non-political nature of the event”.

“After discussions with the Irish delegation, they agreed to change the text for the live show.”

Likewise, the opening act of Tuesday night’s semi-final Eric Saade (below) was seen wearing a keffiyeh – a symbol commonly worn by those showing support of Palestine.

The National: Eric Saade performs the song Popular during the opening of the first semi-final at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden (Martin Meissner/AP)

Eurovision again said it regretted that the act “chose to compromise the non-political nature of the event”.

Despite Jordan’s reservations about the boycott, he admits organisers have tied themselves up in knots somewhat with its “non-political stance”.

“It’s about freedom of expression, because on one hand the EBU are championing that but appear to be censoring people as well.

“That leads to a backlash.”

The EBU has also said only flags that represent countries taking part and the rainbow flag can be brought into the event and that any other “flags, symbols, clothing, items and banners used for the likely purpose of instrumentalising the TV shows” will be removed.

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity campaign has also said it supports the call for a boycott of Eurovision.

In a statement given to The National, the group called on the UK’s entrant Olly Alexander to withdraw and for any venue hosting the event to cancel.

We told on Thursday how a pub in Edinburgh had decided to cancel its plans to screen the contest following backlash from the local community.

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A spokesperson said: “SPSC supports the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest due to the EBU’s decision to include Israel as it commits genocide in Gaza.

“We also extend our solidarity to the tens of thousands protesting on the streets of Malmo and rejecting the normalisation of the genocidal state.”

On Alexander specifically, the group said: “To take part in an international contest, on the same stage as an apartheid state committing genocide, is to normalise the acute pain, suffering and humiliation endured by Palestinians at the hands of Israel.

“Olly can claim to acknowledge his privilege, but unless willing to sacrifice some of that privilege when it is needed most, it’s merely a boast. Palestinians are tired of empty rhetoric.”

Alexander (below) himself recently addressed remarks from fans over Israel’s inclusion in the event.

The National: Olly Alexande r will perform for the UK at Eurovision

He said: “A lot of the contestants and myself have been having a lot of comments that are like ‘you are complicit in a genocide by taking part in Eurovision’ which is quite extreme. It’s very extreme.

“I understand where that sentiment is coming from but I think it’s not correct. It’s an incredibly complicated political situation, one that I’m not qualified to speak on.

“The backdrop to this is actual immense suffering. It’s a humanitarian crisis, a war. It just so happens there’s a song contest going on at the same time that I’m a part of.”

In April, Eurovision organisers criticised artists being “targeted” on social media and said: “While we strongly support freedom of speech and the right to express opinions in a democratic society, we firmly oppose any form of online abuse, hate speech or harassment directed at our artists or any individuals associated with the contest.

“This is unacceptable and totally unfair, given the artists have no role in this decision.”