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British cultural figures urge BBC to boycott Eurovision in Israel

The Guardian logo The Guardian 29/01/2019 Ben Beaumont-Thomas
a group of people posing for the camera: Netta, who won Eurovision 2018 for Israel. © EPA Netta, who won Eurovision 2018 for Israel.

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British cultural figures including Vivienne Westwood, Peter Gabriel and Mike Leigh have signed a letter calling on the BBC to cancel coverage of this year’s Eurovision song contest because it is taking place in Israel.

The letter criticises 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,” it reads.

British designer Vivienne Westwood, right, is kissed by her husband Andreas Kronthaler at the end of Vivienne Westwood's Spring-Summer 2017 Ready to Wear fashion collection presented Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © ASSOCIATED PRESS British designer Vivienne Westwood, right, is kissed by her husband Andreas Kronthaler at the end of Vivienne Westwood's Spring-Summer 2017 Ready to Wear fashion collection presented Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

“The BBC is bound by its charter to ‘champion freedom of expression’. It should act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against that freedom are not being committed.”

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The letter comes as the UK prepares to select its entry for the annual song competition in a public vote on a BBC2 show entitled Eurovision: You Decide, to be aired 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.”

Britain's Prince William speaks with Israeli 2018 Eurovision song contest winner Netta Barzilai during a tour of Rothschild Boulevard, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 27, 2018. Reuters/Amir Cohen/Pool © Thomson Reuters Britain's Prince William speaks with Israeli 2018 Eurovision song contest winner Netta Barzilai during a tour of Rothschild Boulevard, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 27, 2018. Reuters/Amir Cohen/Pool

Other signatories of the letter include actors Julie Christie and Maxine Peake; musicians Wolf Alice and Roger Waters; and writers Caryl Churchill and AL Kennedy. Their letter follows another in September 2018 in which cultural figures from across Europe called on Eurovision’s organisers to “cancel Israel’s hosting of the contest altogether and move it to another country with a better human rights record”.

The contest is being held in Israel following the country’s win in 2018, for pop singer Netta’s track Toy. Israeli president 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. The letter’s authors say the decision “does nothing to protect Palestinians from land theft, evictions, shootings, beatings and more by Israel’s security forces”.

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Many of the signatories have protested the staging of other cultural events in Israel. Nick Cave and Radiohead are among the musicians criticised for performing in the country in recent years, with others, such as Lana Del Rey and Lorde, cancelling concerts following pressure to do so.

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