By: Laura Snapes, The Guardian
Public figures including Stephen Fry, Sharon Osbourne, Marina Abramovićand pop mogul Scooter Braun have signed a letter speaking out against a proposed boycott of this year’s Eurovision song contest, which is to be held in Tel Aviv in May.
Their letter states that Eurovision’s “spirit of togetherness” across the continent is “under attack by those calling to boycott Eurovision 2019 because it is being held in Israel, subverting the spirit of the contest and turning it from a tool of unity into a weapon of division”.
It continues: “We believe the cultural boycott movement is an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition. While we all may have differing opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the best path to peace, we all agree that a cultural boycott is not the answer.”
Non-profit organisation Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) are behind the letter, which has more than 100 signatories. Also among them are Gene Simmons of the band Kiss, comedian Al Murray, Countdown co-presenter Rachel Riley and Spanish singer/songwriter Conchita, AKA Maria Concepción Mendívil.
Ari Ingel, director of CCFP, said: “The members of the entertainment industry who have signed this statement, along with the thousands of individuals who have endorsed its message, all believe in building bridges through music and the arts as a means to achieving greater understanding and peace in the region.”
Their letter comes in response to widespread calls for participating artists and broadcast partners to boycott the contest. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has claimed that Israel is “shamelessly using Eurovision as part of its official Brand Israel strategy, which presents ‘Israel’s prettier face’ to whitewash and distract attention from its war crimes against Palestinians.”
In January 2019, British figures including Vivienne Westwood, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Mike Leigh, Julie Christie, Maxine Peake, Caryl Churchill and the band Wolf Alice signed a letter calling on the BBC to cancel coverage of the 2019 song contest.
The signatories criticised Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territories. “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.”
In response, the BBC underlined its commitment to airing the event: “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.”
Roger Waters has urged Madonna to pull her planned performance at the event. She has not responded. In September 2018, he also wrote an open letter to the 41 finalists asking them to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the Palestinian people. Thus far, no competing nation has rescinded their participation owing to the competition’s location. In February, Ukraine pulled out after its competitor selection process became entangled in political tensions with Russia.
The contest is being held in Israel following the country’s win in 2018, for pop singer Netta Barzilai’s track Toy. 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. Instead, Tel Aviv will host the contest, which is scheduled for 18 May. Michael Rice, 21, will represent the UK.
• This article was amended on 30 April 2019. An earlier version said the former Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst had signed the letter. It is in fact the Spanish singer/songwriter Conchita, AKA Maria Concepción Mendívil. This has been corrected.