Helen Mirren, Liev Schreiber among stars condemning calls for Israel Eurovision ban

400 signatories to letter organized by Creative Community for Peace say they’re shocked by efforts to ban Israel ‘for responding to greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Helen Mirren onstage at the screening of 'Golda' at the opening night of the Jerusalem's Film Festival, July 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Helen Mirren onstage at the screening of 'Golda' at the opening night of the Jerusalem's Film Festival, July 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A range of celebrities and Hollywood luminaries have signed onto a letter of support published Wednesday for Israel’s right to compete in this year’s Eurovision contest, amid a wave of calls for the country to be barred from participating.

The letter, organized by the nonprofit Creative Community for Peace, was signed by more than 400 people, including actress Helen Mirren, actor Liev Schreiber, singer Boy George, Sharon Osbourne, actress Selma Blair, music producer Scooter Braun, musician Gene Simmons and actress Emmy Rossum.

The letter read in part: “We have been shocked and disappointed to see some members of the entertainment community calling for Israel to be banished from the Contest for responding to the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

“We believe that unifying events such as singing competitions are crucial to help bridge our cultural divides and unite people of all backgrounds through their shared love of music,” the letter continued.

“Those who are calling for Israel’s exclusion are subverting the spirit of the Contest and turning it from a celebration of unity into a tool of politics.”

Signatory Gene Simmons said in a statement that “those advocating to exclude an Israeli singer from Eurovision don’t move the needle towards peace, but only further divide the world.”

As Israel faces criticism around the world over its ongoing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, some have called to bar the country from the competition, although the European Broadcasting Union, which runs the contest, has repeatedly stated that Israel will still be allowed to compete.

Liev Schreiber participates in a session on Ukraine during the Clinton Global Initiative September 2023 Meeting at New York Hilton Midtown on September 18, 2023 in New York City (Noam Galai/Getty Images for Clinton Global Initiative/AFP)

Calls have been notably strong in Iceland, Finland and Sweden, with some artists calling on their countries to pull out of the contest if Israel is not banned from the competition — something Sweden, as host nation, cannot do.

So far, no countries have officially backed out of the contest over Israel’s participation.

While the contest is still months away, the Eurovision betting odds charts rank Israel in 5th place at the moment, a result largely believed to be buoyed by pockets of support for the nation, similar to how Ukraine won the contest in 2022.

Israel this year is sending 20-year-old Eden Golan, the winner of the reality contest “Hakochav Haba” (“The Next Star”) to the competition, with her song to be announced next month. The Kan public broadcaster, which is responsible for Israel’s participation, has said this year the song must include some Hebrew lyrics, “in light of the complicated period.”

Eden Golan. (Shai Franco)

Many of the popular Eurovision blogs have severely limited their coverage of Israel’s Eurovision selection process, unlike in years past, with some citing Hakochav Haba’s tributes to and inclusion of IDF soldiers in the show as being too political.

“Hakochav Haba” was slated to premiere in October, but was delayed until late November following Hamas’s October 7 massacre and the subsequent war. Even among the contestants on the show, the losses were felt throughout the competition.

Shaul Greenglick, 26, who filmed his audition while on break from IDF reserve duty in a clip that aired on December 3, later dropped out of the contest due to his ongoing military responsibilities. He was killed fighting in Gaza on December 26.

Cpt. (res.) Shaul Greenglick, 26, appears on the reality show ‘The Next Star’ on December 3, 2023. He was killed fighting in Gaza on December 25, 2023. (Screenshot from Keshet, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Hakochav Haba” also paid tribute to three young people who auditioned for the show just weeks before they were all slain at the Supernova music festival: Shani Gabay, Benayahu Biton and Dor Avitan.

The 2024 Eurovision will be held in Malmö, Sweden. There will be two semifinals on May 7 and 9, followed by the final on May 11. Israel will be competing in the second semi-final at its request, since the first would include a dress rehearsal on Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Last year, Kan decided to select the contestant internally, and sent famous pop star Noa Kirel to represent Israel at the competition, resulting in a strong third-place finish with her song “Unicorn.”

Israel has competed in the song contest since 1973, and has four wins under its belt: first in 1978 with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” by Yizhar Cohen; then a year later with “Hallelujah” by Gali Atari and Milk and Honey; again in 1998 with “Diva” by Dana International and most recently in 2018 with Netta Barzilai’s “Toy.”

Most Popular
read more: