Eurovision: Finnish artists want Israel barred from contest over Gaza war

Israel entrant Noa Kirel during the opening of the grand final for the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest final in Liverpool
Image caption,The European Broadcasting Union has said Israel – represented by Noa Kirel in 2023 – will compete in this year’s event

By Phelan Chatterjee

BBC News

More than 1,400 Finnish music industry professionals have signed a petition urging a ban on Israel from Eurovision over alleged “war crimes” in Gaza.

If Israel is not excluded from the competition, they want public broadcaster Yle to withdraw Finland’s entry from the competition.

Yle says it is monitoring the position of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organiser of the contest.

Last month, Icelandic musicians made similar demands to broadcaster Rúv.

Lukas Korpelainen, one of the petition’s authors, told newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet it was not acceptable for Israel to “take part in the Eurovision Song Contest to polish its image”.

Signatories include Finnish artists Olavi Uusivirta, Paleface and Axel Ehnström, who represented the country in the 2011 contest.

They accuse Yle of double standards, saying the broadcaster was among the first to demand a ban on Russia from the 2022 contest, “and we expect the same active defending of values from Yle now as well”.

A day after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Yle representative Ville Vilén said Moscow’s attack was “contrary to all the values that Yle and other European broadcasters represent”.

The EBU soon after banned Russia from participating.

Mr Vilén said the situation in 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 told Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat last month.

Yle’s head of communications Jere Nurminen told Hufvudstadsbladet the company was following the situation and talking to the EBU and other public broadcasters.

Yle also plans to meet the petition’s authors.

In December the EBU released a statement saying that Eurovision was “for broadcasters – not for governments” and Israel had taken part for 50 years.

It said member organisations had agreed that Israel’s public broadcaster “complies with all competition rules” and insisted the contest was a “non-political event”.

The BBC has approached Israel’s culture ministry and public broadcaster Kan for comment.

This year’s Eurovision will take place in the Swedish city of Malmö, with the United Kingdom represented by pop star Olly Alexander.

After it emerged that Alexander had endorsed a statement accusing Israel of genocide, an Israeli official told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper the arguments were “absurd” and accused signatories of “anti-Israel bias”.

More than 23,350 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel’s military campaign – mostly women and children – according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

The war was triggered after an attack by gunmen belonging to Hamas – which is classed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US, UK and other Western governments – on southern Israel. About 1,300 people – most of them civilians – were killed, with about 240 others taken hostage.

Israel launched retaliatory air strikes on Gaza before mounting a ground operation with the stated aim of “destroying Hamas’s military and governing capabilities” as well as freeing the hostages.

A total blockade of Gaza by the Israeli military has cut off supplies of food, medicines and fuel. UN agencies say 26% of Gazans – 576,600 people – have exhausted their food supplies and coping capacities and face “catastrophic hunger and starvation”.

According to Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, 1.9 million Gazan residents – about 85% of the population – have been displaced, and 1.4 million of them are sheltering in its facilities.

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