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BBC urged to drop UK Eurovision entrant Olly Alexander who called Israel an ‘apartheid state’

BBC urged to drop UK Eurovision entrant Olly Alexander who called Israel an ‘apartheid state’
BBC urged to drop UK Eurovision entrant Olly Alexander who called Israel an ‘apartheid state’ Copyright Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP
Copyright Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP
By David Mouriquand
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The UK entrant for next year's Eurovision endorsed a statement by an LGBTQ+ “direct action” pressure group accusing Israel of genocide. Now, several groups are demanding the BBC drop Olly Alexander.

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The BBC has been urged to drop Britain’s entrant at next year’s Eurovision Song Contest after it emerged he had signed a letter calling Israel an “apartheid regime”.

Olly Alexander, the singer of pop band Years and Years and star of Russell T Davies' TV series It’s A Sin, was announced as the UK entrant by the national broadcaster last week. He endorsed a statement by an LGBTQ+ “direct action” pressure group Voices4London, which called for a ceasefire in Gaza and accused Israel of genocide.

The letter was published on 20 October amid the ongoing Israeli military response to the 7 October attacks carried out by Hamas.

It read: “We are watching a genocide take place in real time. Death overflows from our phone screens and into our hearts. And, as a queer community, we cannot sit idly by while the Israeli government continues to wipe out entire lineages of Palestinian families. We cannot untangle these recent tragedies from a violent history of occupation. Current events simply are an escalation of the state of Israel’s apartheid regime, which acts to ethnically cleanse the land. Since the violent creation of the state 75 years ago, the Israeli military and Israeli settlers have continued to terrorise Palestinian people.”

The letter continued: “Queer and trans Palestinians have long highlighted that pinkwashing plays a significant role in Zionist propaganda… We stand against any and all harassment and discrimination against Jewish communities. For the many queer and anti-Zionist Jewish individuals invested in liberation, this unthinking philosemitism, which hesitates to criticise an ongoing genocide out of fear of being seen to criticise Jewish people, is simply the other face of anti-Semitism”.

Anti-Zionism is the denial of the state of Israel. Philosemitism, a controversial term, refers to an interest in and admiration of Jews, their history and their influence – but was used as a pejorative term in Nazi Germany.

Olly Alexander, seen here at the 'An Audience with Kylie' evening at the Royal Albert Hall, London - 1 December 2023
Olly Alexander, seen here at the 'An Audience with Kylie' evening at the Royal Albert Hall, London - 1 December 2023Millie Turner/Invision/AP

Following the reports of the Voices4London letter signed by Alexander, who is gay and vowed to fly the flag for the UK “in the gayest way possible” after his selection was confirmed last week, a Jewish charity - Campaign Against Antisemitism - has called for the 33-year-old singer to be replaced. They have also demanded that the BBC cut ties with him altogether.

Elsewhere, a source inside the Conservative Party has accused the BBC of “either a massive oversight or sheer brass neck” by selecting Alexander. “After they refused to call Hamas a terrorist organisation, you would think BBC bosses would try to steer clear of causing any more diplomatic blunders. Maybe it’s time to stop letting the BBC decide who represents the UK at Eurovision.”

However, according to reports by British broadsheet newspaper The Telegraph, the BBC apparently does not plan to take any action because Alexander signed the letter before he was unveiled as the UK’s act.

Sharing a link to the Telegraph’s report on X, the Embassy of Israel in London said:

“Clearly, Olly Alexander graduated from the Middle Eastern School of TikTok. We would be happy to arrange a trip for you to visit the Oct 7 massacre sites in Israel, where the rights of LGBTQ+ [people] are celebrated, protected and cherished. Unfortunately, our neighbours can’t guarantee the same.”

Indeed, same-sex activity between men is illegal in Palestine and carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Conversely, Israel is seen as the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, hosting annual pride parades in big cities.

Boycott Eurovision?

This recent criticism comes amid calls for Israel to be dropped from Eurovision 2024 altogether, due to the ongoing Israel Hamas war. Some have even called for a general boycott of next year's Eurovision

Following online criticism, the European Broadcasting Union released a statement regarding Israel’s participation in Eurovision, saying that it currently has no plans to ban Israel from the Eurovision Song Contest.

“The Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for public broadcasters from all over Europe and the Middle East. It is a contest for broadcasters – not for governments – and the Israeli public broadcaster has been participating in the contest for 50 years. The EBU is a member-led organisation. The EBU’s governing bodies – led by the Board of Directors – represent the members. These bodies assessed the list of participants and decided that the Israeli public broadcaster complies with all competition rules. Together with 36 other broadcasters, it will be able to participate in the competition next year.”

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The EBU based its decision on the current attitude of other international organisations towards Israel: “At the moment, there is an inclusive attitude towards Israeli participants in major competitions. The Eurovision Song Contest remains a non-political event, uniting audiences worldwide through music.”

Facing comparisons between Israel being allowed in the contest and Russia being banned (Russia were excluded from Eurovision in 2022 due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine), the EBU explained: “In 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine, the EBU’s governing bodies decided to exclude Russia from the Eurovision Song Contest, where they were to compete alongside Ukraine. As said before, the Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for broadcasters. After repeated violations of membership obligations and violation of the values of the public media, Russia was suspended.”

Sweden will host the 68th Eurovision Song Contest next May. The world's biggest live music event is being staged in Malmö, marking the third time that city has hosted the contest.

Israel has won the contest for times – in 1978, 1979, 1998, and most recently in 2018, when Netta Barzilai won with ‘Toy’ in Lisbon.

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Additional sources • The Telegraph, EBU

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