IRELAND – In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Ambassador Ophir Kariv said he was glad RTÉ had been “strong in its position that this is a big cultural event and that politics should not be involved in it”.
His comments come in the wake of renewed calls from the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign to boycott the song contest, to be held in May in Tel Aviv.
In a protest at RTÉ called to coincide with that day’s announcement of Sarah McTernan as this year’s competitor, the group called on the singer to “stand on the right side of history by listening to the Palestinian and international calls for a boycott”.
The first suggestions that Ireland should stage a boycott of the contest sprang up on social media moments after singer Netta’s triumph in Portugal last year.
A campaign supported by a range of Irish artists and media personalities, including a former Eurovision host, was launched last June, and a petition supporting an Irish boycott now has over 11,000 signatures.
The IPSC supports a long-running cultural boycott of Israel. In the UK, meanwhile, cultural figures like Peter Gabriel and Mike Leigh have signed a letter to the BBC calling on it to cancel coverage of the contest.
Speaking to this website Ambassador Kariv said that millions of Europeans “voted for the Israeli song knowing that Eurovision was going to take place in Israel at the end of it”.
“Even though some people have tried to make it one, this is not a political event. It’s a cultural event, it’s a musical event and we are expecting close to 20,000 people travelling from all across the world, especially from Europe.”
Asked about this month’s protest, he said the group calling for a boycott “are people you see time and again trying to hijack the agenda of sporting and cultural events”.
Speaking at the RTÉ protest ISPC chairperson Fatin Al Tamimi said that Palestinian fans “whether from the occupied Palestinian territories or the refugee diaspora are highly unlikely to be allowed entry to attend the contest, reflecting Israel’s discriminatory apartheid system imposed upon Palestinians”.
Kariv, asked to respond to that point, said: “Anyone from any country will be welcome to participate.
He added that “the government and the state is obliged to keep the security of Israeli citizens, and this will have to be imposed and this right will have to be maintained also during the Eurovision”.
“Palestinians do cross to Israel on a daily basis. Thousands of them cross from the West Bank to Israel itself on a daily basis. There’s nothing discriminatory here and certainly the word apartheid has been reinvented when it’s mentioned together with Israel. This is so wrong – it doesn’t have anything to do with reality on the ground.[The term apartheid] is being used in a very cynical and political way that I think works first and foremost against the word apartheid itself.
The Jerusalem Post reported last month that Israel had upgraded the technology at the main crossing point between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem in a bid to cut down significant wait times at the crossing.
More recently the Times of Israel reported this week that a total shutdown of crossing points from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would be in place for four days ahead of the holiday of Purim, in keeping with standard practice during holidays and festivals.
Asked for advice for Irish Eurovision fans who do plan to travel to Israel this May the ambassador said that in Tel Aviv they can expect to find “one of the most lively cities in the world, one of the most open cities in the world one of the safest cities in the world”.
“It’s very culturally diverse, especially around the Eurovision time, there’s going to be many cultural events and performances.”
Eurovision competitors and other artists will stage performances in a specially constructed Euro Village that would be set up about two weeks before the contest, he said.
Asked what people can expect in terms of security he said such concerns had “long ceased to be only Israel’s concern and you can see heightened security around Europe at all major events that are cultural and you can expect the same in Israel”.
“In Israel unfortunately we have a lot of experience in this field and many in Europe I believe are now dealing with similar challenges.
I can safely say [security] will be first class. One of the fundamentals of having a successful security system is to also exercise it in a way that does not inflict on the event itself or on the feeling and sense of security and safety of the people themselves.
The latest travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs here advises Irish citizens in Israel and the Occupied Territories to exercise “a high degree of caution”.
It also notes that the Israeli Parliament passed a law in 2017 “which gives authority to immigration officials to deny entry to foreign nationals who have publicly called for a boycott of Israel and/or settlements, or who belong to an organisation which has called for such a boycott”.