More than 100 members of the entertainment industry including media personality Sharon Osbourne, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons and music manager Scooter Braun are speaking out against a proposed boycott of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Israel.
The popular annual music event, widely known as Eurovision, is set to be held in Tel Aviv in May, but a host of British celebrities have called on the BBC to cancel coverage of the contest over Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Opponents of the boycott, including British broadcaster Stephen Fry and performance artist Marina Abramović, signed an open letter from the non-profit organization Creative Community for Peace on Tuesday, condemning the boycott as “subverting the spirit of the contest and turning it from a tool of unity into a weapon of division.”
“Unifying events, such as singing competitions, are crucial to help bridge our cultural divides and bring people of all backgrounds together,” they wrote.
“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,” stated the letter.
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, electronic music pioneer Brian Eno, and movie directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh are among the British celebrities who have urged a boycott of Eurovision, alongside several Palestinian artists and activists.
“Until Palestinians can enjoy freedom, justice and equal rights, there should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights,” they wrote in a letter to The Guardian in September 2018.
More than 40,000 people have also signed an online petition calling on broadcasters to withdraw from the long-running and popular event this year.
The BBC responded to the letter in The Guardian with a statement: “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.”
Eurovision is hugely popular across Europe, with the 2018 version in Portugal attracting 186 million viewers, according to the organizer, the European Broadcasting Union.
Israeli singer Netta won the contest, ensuring the country would host for the first time since 1999.
Madonna will perform during the interval of this year’s event, her press team have confirmed to CNN.
Eurovision is no stranger to controversy, with the kitschy and colorful event turning into a politically-charged spectacle on an almost-annual basis.
The 2016 contest became embroiled in geopolitical tensions after it was won by a Ukrainian artist whose song evoked Russia’s deportation of members of her Crimean ethnic group during World War II.
Recent editions in Russia and Azerbaijan were also hit by protests over human rights concerns.