FRANCE – France’s entrant to the Eurovision song contest has received death threats, partly due to his decision to perform in Israel, but, in an interview with Israeli TV, said he is coming to Tel Aviv for the event anyway. Bilal Hassani, a 19-year-old from Paris, won France’s selection contest for Eurovision with his song “Roi.” Hassani was born to a Muslim family of Moroccan origin, is gay and performs in colorful wigs and heavy makeup. He was well-known in France before the contest as an internet personality and for performing in a song contest for youth when he was 15.
Hassani has received hateful messages and threats due to his sexuality, appearance, and now, after winning France’s selection this week, for his planned trip to Israel. Tel Aviv is hosting the annual song contest in May.
“Sometimes there are people who try to make it a political event but I’m not about that. The stage is a sacred place,” he told Channel 12 in an interview aired Tuesday.
He filed a police complaint this week following the death threats, the report said. Hassani said he is excited about visiting Israel, despite the pressure he is under to cancel the trip.
“I can’t wait. I heard the life is really exciting over there in Tel Aviv. I can’t wait to see the sun and I can’t wait to visit,” he said.
The singer discusses the online harassment he deals with on his YouTube channel, which has over 800,000 followers, and in his music. He has dreamed of performing in Eurovision since he was young, he said.
“I’ve been watching Eurovision ever since I was a little boy. It was always something that I used to say, ‘One day I’ll represent France at Eurovision,’” he said. “I am just a boy from maybe the new generation who really feels like he can do anything.”
Hassani described himself as a “huge, huge fan” of Barzilai. His winning song, “Roi,” or “King,” carries a message of self-acceptance and empowerment similar to Barzilai’s “Toy.”
Earlier this month, anti-Israel protesters briefly interrupted an event with Barzilai in Paris. A broadcast of the concert showed four or five protesters rush the stage, with at least one person holding a sign reading “No to Eurovision 2019 in Israel,” before being swiftly escorted away.
In September, some 140 artists called for a boycott of the 2019 competition, including Pink Floyd cofounder Roger Waters, film director Ken Loach, novelist Yann Martel, musician Brian Eno and playwright Eve Ensler. They demanded that the event be boycotted “if it is hosted by Israel while it continues its grave, decades-old violations of Palestinian human rights.”
On Tuesday, a group of British cultural figures urged the BBC to call for the event to be relocated from Israel.