BBC urged to sack Eurovision entrant who called Israel an ‘apartheid state’

Olly Alexander
Olly Alexander has faced calls by a Jewish charity to be replaced over his comments - Gus Stewart/Redferns

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” and criticising “Zionist propaganda”.

Olly Alexander, who was announced as the UK entrant by the national broadcaster last week, endorsed a statement by an LGBT charity that also accused the country of genocide, The Telegraph can reveal.

On Wednesday, the Conservative Party accused the BBC of “either a massive oversight or sheer brass neck” by selecting Alexander, who found fame in pop band Years and Years. A Jewish charity called for him to be replaced and anti-Semitism campaigners demanded the corporation cut ties with him altogether.

However, The Telegraph understands the BBC does not plan to take any action because Alexander signed the letter before he was unveiled as the UK’s act.

The BBC has been heavily criticised for its coverage of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, during which it has refused to refer to Hamas as “terrorists”.

Israel first participated in Eurovision in 1973. It has won four times, and its entry next year has already prompted a boycott of the contest from pro-Palestinian activists.

The statement signed by Alexander was co-ordinated by Voices4 London, an LGBT “direct action” pressure group. It was published on Oct 20 amid the ongoing Israeli military response to the Oct 7 terror attacks carried out by Hamas.

It 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.”

Israel ‘a queer issue’

The group claimed that solidarity with the Palestinian territories – where same-sex activity between men is criminal with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment – was a “queer issue” because oppression was “rooted in the same violent structures – colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism”.

Alexander, who is gay and starred in the drama It’s a Sin about the 1980s Aids crisis, has vowed to fly the flag for the UK “in the gayest way possible” after his selection was confirmed on Saturday.

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, while philosemitism refers to an interest in and appreciation of Jews – particularly their history and influence – but was used as a pejorative term in Nazi Germany to describe positive sentiments.

Alexander and the BBC came under fire over his remarks on Wednesday. A Conservative Party source said: “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.

“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.”

Alexander’s comments represent the second Eurovision impartiality row this year after Mae Muller, who sang for Britain in Liverpool in May, posted tweets prior to her selection that attacked Boris Johnson and the Conservatives over a range of issues.

Muller said Mr Johnson did not deserve an ICU bed when he was ill with coronavirus, attacked the Conservatives over the free school meals row and campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader.

Campaign Against Antisemitism, a volunteer-led Jewish charity, insisted the BBC “can and must” cut ties with Alexander.

A spokesman for the group told The Telegraph: “The rhetoric in this letter, which is seemingly endorsed by Olly Alexander, is extreme. It is appalling in particular that it condemns ‘unthinking philosemitism’.

“At a time when nearly seven in 10 British Jews feel afraid to express their identity in public, this must not be the person to represent our country at the Eurovision Song Contest. The BBC can and must right this wrong.”

Alexander, who topped the charts in 2015 as part of Years and Years with their song King, has been vocal about his sexuality and LGBT rights, making a speech on stage about discrimination during his Glastonbury performance in 2019.

He has previously presented a documentary, Growing Up Gay, for the BBC, and said he felt “horrified” about the attitudes of people like Piers Morgan, who is gender critical, towards transgender people.

The BBC declined to comment. A representative for Alexander and Voices4London were contacted for comment.

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