Activists call on Madonna to cancel Eurovision appearance: 'Don't undermine our struggle for freedom'

This year's Eurovision Song Contest is being staged in Tel Aviv in May, alongside a barrage of controversy

FILE PHOTO: Singer Madonna arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Gala, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between in New York City, U.S. on May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
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Activists, celebrities and cultural figures from around the world are calling on pop star Madonna to cancel her performance at this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

The 60-year-old is set to perform at the annual competition, to be held in Tel Aviv in May.

The European Broadcasting Union confirmed the news to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, saying the performance was expected to cost about $1 million (Dh3.7m) and would be financed by billionaire businessman Sylvan Adams.

Why is Eurovision in Tel Aviv this year?

It's the latest controversy for the contest, which has been under attack ever since it announced it would stage the event in Israel.

Tel Aviv won the right to host the 2019 event after Israeli singer Netta took out top honours at the 2018 contest. The winning country traditionally hosts the following year's competition.

Israel is evolving more and more into an apartheid state – and the world stands by and lets it happen

In the hours after news of the performance broke, Madonna's social media accounts were flooded by requests to cancel her appearance, while opinion pieces and open letters have been penned in major international publications in the same hopes.

Madonna herself had once voiced her support for Palestinians on social media, but she has also long been a vocal follower of Kabbalah, a discipline and school of thought of Judaism.

'Israel is exploiting your performance to mask its oppression of Palestinians'

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) – a division of the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign – is spearheading a public campaign calling on Madonna not to attend the event.

"Palestinians hope that you will not undermine our struggle for freedom, justice and equality by performing at Eurovision in apartheid Tel Aviv, on the ruins of the ethnically cleaned village of al-Shaykh Muwannis," the statement said.

"Israel's fanatic, far-right government is cynically exploiting your performance and those of the contestants, to mask its deepening oppression of Palestinians."

PACBI went on to say that more than 100,000 people had signed petitions to boycott Eurovision, as had more than 20 Israeli artists and hundreds of "prominent international artists, including the 1994 Eurovision winner". Irish musicians Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan won the contest that year.

Palestinians remind the pop star that she once supported their cause

Palestine's The Speed Sisters, an all-female streetcar racing group dubbed the Middle East’s first all-women racing team, have also weighed in with an open letter, expressing their "deep disappointment".

It's an especially pointed comment, considering Madonna made her support for Palestinians in 2014 very clear, urging her fans on Instagram and Twitter to donate to the Sisters as they were "fighting for freedom in Palestine".

"We urge you to respect the nonviolent picket line set by Palestinian civil society and cancel this concert," the Speed Sisters wrote.

"This is personal to us. Lending your name to Eurovision in Tel Aviv, while the absolute majority of Palestinian artists are calling for a boycott, art-washes Israel’s crimes against us and normalises its oppression. This prolongs our suffering and makes our dream of a dignified life in peace and justice that much more remote.

"As Palestinian women living under Israel’s decades-old military occupation and struggling for freedom, justice and equal rights, as you once recognized, we are wondering, would you still perform in Israel if you knew that Palestinians’ daily lives are a mixture of walls, checkpoints, murders, arrests, home demolitions, land confiscations and increasingly limited opportunities towards a better future?

"Or if you knew that along the coast of Tel Aviv, our Palestinian sisters and brothers besieged in Gaza Strip are being bombed and killed by Israeli tanks, planes and snipers simply for insisting on their rights as stipulated under international law?"

Leading British figures have already come together to condemn the event

In January, a group of famed British cultural figures and celebrities, including designer Vivienne Westwood, director Mike Leigh and singer Peter Gabriel, signed a letter calling on the BBC to cancel its coverage of the contest.

The letter, published in The Guardian, took aim at Israel over its occupation of Palestine.

“Eurovision may be light entertainment, but it is not exempt from human rights considerations – and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights,” it reads. “The BBC is bound by its charter to ‘champion freedom of expression’. It should act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against that freedom are not being committed,” the letter said.

The BBC then responded with its own statement, reiterating its commitment to the event.

“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.

Leigh has for many years been a regular and prominent advocate in the UK for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign called for by Palestinian civil society against Israel.

In March, he said in an interview with The National that it was "outrageous" the world was not doing more to help the Palestinian cause.

“Israel is evolving more and more into an apartheid state – and the world stands by and lets it happen,” he said.

“We were brought up on things that we later realised were lies. We were told quite seriously that the Arabs, as they were erroneously called, never cultivated the land, and the Israelis did, so and that made it legitimate.”