Saying the competition is not political, the BBC on Wednesday rejected a call from dozens of British cultural figures, who had signed a letter urging the UK’s national broadcaster to push for relocating the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest from Israel to another country.
The BBC said Eurovision was “not a political event and does not endorse any political message or campaign,” responding to a letter printed in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday that cited Israel’s human rights record in the West Bank as the reason.
“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,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
“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,” it said.
Among those who signed the letter were British musicians Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters; actors Julie Christie, Miriam Margolyes and Maxine Peake; directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh; and writers Caryl Churchill and A.L. Kennedy.
“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,” read the letter, which was sent ahead of the UK choosing its entry for the international song contest.
“The BBC is bound by its charter to ‘champion freedom of expression,'” the letter continued. “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.
“The European Broadcasting Union 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,” it said.
Pro-Palestinian activists regularly call for shunning Israel, ostensibly as a way to pressure the Jewish state to change its treatment of the Palestinians. Critics allege that many boycott supporters actually seek Israel’s destruction.
The British entry for the contest will be chosen during a public vote competition, titled “You Decide,” which is to be broadcast by the BBC 2 channel on February 8.
“For any artist of conscience, this would be a dubious honor,” the letter said. “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 letter also criticized Israel’s nation-state law, passed last July, which enshrines Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
“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 artists noted.
Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in two decades on May 12, 2018, when Netta Barzilai snagged first place with the women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Barzilai’s win meant Israel will host this year’s Eurovision competition, which is scheduled for May 14-18 in Tel Aviv. Over 40 countries are expected to participate, bringing many thousands of fans and worldwide exposure to the Jewish state.
In September 2018 the Guardian published a letter by some 140 artists who called for a boycott of the Eurovision because it was being held in Israel.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.