Israel counters Eurovision boycott with ‘crude’ Google ads

Israel has launched a PR campaign to counter calls for a boycott of the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest final in Tel Aviv, using Google ads which refer to the boycott but lead to a glossy website extolling Israel.

The international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement dismissed the tactic as “crude propaganda”.

BDS has called on artists, music fans and broadcasters to avoid the 2019 contest, arguing that it amounts to whitewashing Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Israel says calls for an international boycott are discriminatory.

Internet advertisements on Google featuring the words “boycott” and “Eurovision” encourage searchers to click on a link that, in fact, leads them to a pro-Israel website which – in a play on the BDS initials – extols Israel as “Beautiful, Diverse, Sensational”.

The advertisement makes no obvious mention of the Israeli government. But Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy – which runs the government’s anti-BDS taskforce – confirmed to Reuters that it was behind the campaign “to promote the positive aspects” of Israel.

The website https://boycotteurovision.net went live a fortnight before the Eurovision finals, which are to be staged in Tel Aviv from May 14 to 18.

The row flared up as music fans begin to trickle in to Tel Aviv, and workers put the finishing touches to the music and public venues.

“After its theft of Palestinian land and culture, Israel is now trying to appropriate a symbol of our nonviolent resistance,” said Alia Malak, of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which oversees the BDS movement’s academic and cultural campaigns.

“This desperate and crude propaganda is straight out of apartheid South Africa’s playbook,” she said. Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, said the advertisement, which features high quality photographs and videos, was intended to “show Israel as it really is, a diverse, beautiful and sensational place, while at the same time, successfully dispelling the lies BDS spreads.”

The Eurovision finals – broadcast to around 50 countries – attracted 189 million viewers last year. The event is organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) together with the host broadcaster. Asked about the Google ads, a spokeswoman for Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster which is producing Eurovision, declined to comment.

Security was tight during preparations amid fears that activists may seek to disrupt the competition.

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