Protesters march against Israel's participation in the 2024 Eurovision contest.
Protesters march against Israel's participation in the 2024 Eurovision contest.

Next month, viewers around the world will tune in for the 68th annual Eurovision song contest to watch performers from across Europe and beyond represent their respective nations in one of — if not the — premier musical competitions on Earth. Although for the time being Eurovision remains a fairly niche pastime in the United States, the contest's popularity across the Atlantic rivals professional sports with its sheer patriotic intensity. But for as much as the competition presents itself as a haven of good natured sonic schmaltz, the reality of the world outside Eurovision's concert hall cannot help but intrude.

Last week, the Queers for Palestine advocacy group published an open letter signed by nearly 500 "queer artists, individuals and organisations" urging Olly Alexander, the British singer chosen to represent the U.K. next month in Malmo, Sweden, not to perform this year while Israel remains an entrant nation. To do so, the group claimed, would be to participate in an event that "provides cultural cover for an ongoing genocide" while Israel wages a bloody war in the Gaza Strip. Shortly after Alexander responded that by staying in the competition, he and his fellow participants can "use our platform and come together to call for peace."

Withdrawing, Alexander explained, would not "bring us any closer to our shared goal."

The "unifying power of music"

Alexander was joined in his refusal to boycott Eurovision by contestants representing eight other participating nations: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, San Marino and Switzerland. The countries explained in a shared statement that although they "stand in solidarity with the oppressed" they remain committed to the "unifying power of music" which helps "transcend differences." That sentiment was echoed, in part, by Eurovision's organizers, the European Broadcast Union, which pushed back on boycott calls in a statement to the BBC on the grounds that their competition "should always transcend politics, promote togetherness and bring audiences together across the world."

Exhortations for boycotting the event are not the first instance of the competition being "shrouded in controversy" due to the ongoing Gaza war, Deadline said. Israel's initial entry was "deemed too political with its reference to the Hamas attack in October 2023" which ignited this latest conflagration. Instead, Israel contestant Eden Golan is slated to sing a revised version of the country's initial entry, entitled "Hurricane."

Eurovision's apolitical aspirations are, in some regard, what allows the competition to exist in the first place, historian Catherine Baker told NBC News, saying that because "every participant has to be able to trust every other participant plus the organizer," an international competition "based on music and cultural expression" tainted by politics might be impossible otherwise.

A double standard?

In Malmo, the contest will take place under "high security amid protests over Israel's participation," The Times of Israel said, noting that a "large share of Sweden's Palestinian community" lives in the coastal city. The ongoing war in Gaza has added an "extra dimension to the city's Eurovision preparations." Earlier this year, more than 1,000 Swedish musicians called on their home country to prevent Israel from participating this year, calling it a "remarkable double standard that undermines the organisation's credibility" in an open letter published in the Aftonbladet newspaper. Two years ago at the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Broadcasting Union blocked Russia on the grounds that their participation would "bring the competition into disrepute." That decision was made by the broadcasting union's executive board after it initially insisted that Russia would be allowed to compete," The Guardian said.

At the same time, simply acknowledging "that you're Palestinian, people will just say that you're making things political," singer Bashar Murad said in an interview with NBC last month. Murad, who was born in East Jerusalem, was considered a major contender to represent Iceland at this year's competition. He told the outlet that being Palestinian is "the skin I'm in, and it's also the lens through which I see the world." He added that he hopes people who hear him understand "that we all have a beating heart, hopes, dreams and ambitions." Murad ultimately lost his Eurovision bid to Icelandic singer Hera Bjork.