The BBC has shot down calls to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Israel this year, saying the competition “is not a political event and does not endorse any political message or campaign”.
Mike Leigh and Miriam Margolyes were among the 51 high profile figures urging the BBC to call for Eurovision 2019 to be moved from Israel in a signed letter in the Guardian.
The letter published yesterday criticises the Jewish state over occupied Palestinian territories, citing “land theft, evictions, shootings, beatings and more by Israel’s security forces.”
It says: “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.”
But a BBC spokesperson hit back, saying: “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.”
Other signatories of the letter include Vivienne Westwood, Ken Loach, Peter Gabriel, Alexei Sayle and Julie Christie.
Tel Aviv is scheduled to host the contest on May 18, after Israel secured a victory last year with pop singer Netta Barzilai’s track ‘Toy’.
The letter comes as the UK prepares to vote on a song in the BBC2 song selection show ‘Eurovision: You Decide’ to be aired on February 8.
It follows another in September 2018 published by the Guardian calling for the boycott, which was signed by over 140 cultural figures, including Ken Loach, Roger Waters, Brian Eno and Mike Leigh.
The letter’s authors say: “The show it says will ‘deliver the UK the artist it deserves to fly the flag out in Tel Aviv in May’.
“For any artist of conscience, this would be a dubious honour. 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.
“Even Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were told in the nation-state law passed last year that only Jews have the “right to national self-determination”.
The British pop band The Tuts claimed in a tweet last week they turned down an opportunity to represent the UK in the competition due to its location, but BBC Eurovision declined to comment.
A Board of Deputies spokesperson said: “This tired old group of anti-Israel activists are at it again – this time claiming that the world’s only Jewish state and the only liberal democracy in the Middle East is (uniquely among Eurovision contestants) unfit to hold this year’s contest.
“Perhaps they also protested when Russia, Serbia and Turkey hosted Eurovision in recent years but if so, we are unable to find these letters.”