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Finnish musicians call for Israel boycott at Eurovision 2024

Tensions over Israel’s participation in this year’s Song Contest grow amid further calls to ban them from the competition over Gaza conflict

Roisin O'Connor
Music Editor
Thursday 11 January 2024 12:20 GMT
Olly Alexander announced as UK's entry for Eurovision 2024

Finnish musicians are demanding that Israel be banned from Eurovision over alleged war crimes in Gaza.

More than 1,400 music industry professionals have signed a petition urging a ban, the BBC reports.

If Israel is not kicked out, they are calling for public broadcaster Yle to withdraw Finland’s entry from the competition.

A similar stance was taken by Icelandic musicians last month with their country’s broadcaster Rúv.

Signatories of the Finnish letter include Axel Ehnström, who represented Finland at Eurovision in 2011.

The letter accuses Yle of double standards, pointing out that the broadcaster was among the first to demand that Russia was banned from the 2022 contest after its invasion of Ukraine.

“We expect the same active defending of values from Yle now as well,” the letter said.

Israel entrant Noa Kirel at the Eurovision Song Contest final in 2023 (PA)

Yle says it is monitoring the position of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organises the Eurovision Song Contest.

According to the BBC, Yle representative Ville Vilén told Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomat that the situation between Israel and Gaza was “not quite the same”.

“As gruesome as it is, it is not a war of inter-state aggression like between Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

The EBU announced in December that it did not intend to ban Israel from competing at Eurovision 2024, issuing a statement that said the contest was “for broadcasters, not for governments”.

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“The Eurovision Song Contest is a competition for public service broadcasters from across Europe and the Middle East. It is a competition for broadcasters – not governments – and the Israeli public broadcaster has participated in the contest for 50 years,” the statement said.

“The Eurovision Song Contest remains a non-political event that unites audiences worldwide through music.”

This year's Eurovision will take place in the Swedish city of Malmö, following the country’s 2023 win with contestant Loreen and her song “Tattoo”.

Next year’s competition will take place in Sweden following Loreen’s victory (PA)

The United Kingdom will be represented by pop star Olly Alexander, known as the frontman of pop act Years & Years and as an actor in shows including It’s a Sin.

In December, the BBC was urged to drop Alexander after it emerged that he signed a letter referring to Israel as an “apartheid regime”.

The letter signed by actor and musician Alexander was published by LGBT+ organisation Voices4 London on 20 October, and titled: “1,400+ Queer Individuals and Organisations Sign an International Statement of Solidarity with Palestine.”

Olly Alexander is representing the UK at Eurovision this year (Getty Images)

Coming in the wake of military action by Israel in Gaza after the 7 October attacks by Hamas, the letter said: “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.”

In response, a Conservative Party source told The Telegraph: “Letting an openly anti-Israel singer compete on the same stage as Israel is either a massive oversight or sheer brass neck from the BBC… Maybe it’s time to stop letting the BBC decide who represents the UK at Eurovision.”

The Eurovision Song Contest is due to kick off on 7 May, with the final scheduled for 11 May.

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