Israel’s webcast of the Eurovision Song Contest was hacked with animated images of explosions in the host city, Tel Aviv, amid growing calls by pro-Palestinian activists to boycott the event.
After the 41-country competition kicked off in the coastal city on Tuesday with a first semi-final, national broadcaster Kan’s webcast cut to animated satellite footage showing explosions in Tel Aviv set to a menacing soundtrack.
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The hacking of Kan’s website did not affect the regular television relay of the show on Tuesday night in Israel or abroad.
Kan played down the incident, noting that the evening ended without any other incident as Greece, Belarus, Serbia, Cyprus, Estonia, Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland, San Marino and Slovenia made it through to Saturday’s finals.
“We know that at a certain stage there was an attempt, apparently by Hamas, to commandeer our digital broadcast,” Kan CEO Eldad Koblenz told Israel’s Army Radio.
“But I am happy to say that within a few minutes we managed to assume control over this phenomenon.”
Hamas, a Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, had no immediate comment.
Earlier this month, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip with air raids, artillery and gunboat shooting as armed factions in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets at towns and settlements in southern Israel.
At least 25 Palestinians and four Israelis were killed before a ceasefire agreement was signed between Gaza and Israel.
Calls for boycott
Israel is hosting the Eurovision contest after local singer Netta Barzilai won last year. The winning country customarily hosts the following year.
Palestinians and their foreign supporters have called on, so far fruitlessly, countries to shun the Tel Aviv songfest as part of wider efforts to isolate Israel internationally.
Many boycott calls have targeted Madonna, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday, in the run-up to the American pop star’s guest performance at the Eurovision final. The second semi-final is on Thursday.
Rebuffing the pressure, Madonna said she would “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda”.
On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters marched in Tel Aviv before the first semi-finals.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the rally, said: “For the activists here, it [the protest] coincides with the first anniversary of the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the border protest that took place in Gaza on the same day when more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli sniper fire.”
“The protesters are concerned that whole of Israel needs to be seen as an occupying force and it should be boycotted in its entirety,” he added.
Israel has been accused of building settlements on occupied Palestinian lands that are considered illegal under international law.
According to official data obtained by the AP news agency, Israel’s government went on a spending spree in its occupied West Bank settlements following the election of President Donald Trump.
The government statistics, released by Israel’s finance ministry, showed Israeli spending in the West Bank in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, rose to about $459m, from about $330m in 2016.
Israel’s government has tried to clamp down on opposition by launching a PR campaign using Google Ads which refers to the words “boycott” and “Eurovision”, but leads to a glossy website extolling Israel as “Beautiful, Diverse, Sensational” – in a play on the BDS initials for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The BDS – modelled after the South African anti-apartheid movement – was formed in 2005 by more than 200 Palestinian civil society organisations, urging non-violent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law.
Demonstrators have vowed to continue their protests throughout the week’s event.
“It’s an opportunity for propaganda and to market Israel as this cool, hip, multi-cultural European place, but actually it’s an apartheid state and hosting it here is a political decision to overwrite the rights of the Palestinians,” Shahaf Weisbein, the project coordinator for the Coalition of Women for Peace, told Al Jazeera.