British cultural icons including Peter Gabriel and Vivienne Westwood are calling on the BBC to boycott the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest unless it is relocated from Israel.
The annual singing competition is due to be held in Tel Aviv in May, following Israeli singer Netta’s victory in 2018. It is customary for the winning country to host the following year’s competition.
But in a letter to The Guardian, 50 leading figures from the creative industry have urged the broadcaster to “press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against freedom are not being committed”.
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The signatories also include Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, actor Julie Christie and filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.
They wrote: “Eurovision may be light entertainment, but it is not exempt from human rights considerations - and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.”
Eurovision organisers the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) “chose Tel Aviv as the venue over occupied Jerusalem - but this does nothing to protect Palestinians from land theft, evictions, shootings, beatings and more by Israel’s security forces”, the letter continues.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “had wanted the contest to be staged in Jerusalem, but the nationality of the city is disputed, with Palestinians claiming an Israeli-occupied area as a potential future capital city”, reports the newspaper.
The plea to the British broadcaster comes as the UK prepares to select its entry for the contest in a public vote on BBC Two show Eurovision: You Decide on 8 February.
“For any artist of conscience, this would be a dubious honour,” the letter says. “They and the BBC should consider that You Decide is not a principle extended to the Palestinians, who cannot ‘decide’ to remove Israel’s military occupation and live free of apartheid.”
The BBC responded: “The Eurovision Song Contest is not a political event and does not endorse any political message or campaign. The competition has always supported the values of friendship, inclusion, tolerance and diversity, and we do not believe it would be appropriate to use the BBC’s participation for political reasons.
“Because of this we will be taking part in this year’s event. The host country is determined by the rules of the competition, not the BBC.”
The EBU also emphasised the “non-political character of the event” and pointed out that preparations in Tel Aviv were already “well advanced”.
The UK isn’t the only country where objections have been raised. Citizens in Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Australia and Sweden have also called for Eurovision boycotts.
However, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said last year that he did not believe a boycott would advance the Palestinian cause.
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