On Monday morning, the Institute for Middle East Understanding published a letter signed by 58 Palestinian women artists from both occupied Palestine and the diaspora, urging Madonna not to perform at Eurovision, an international song contest being held in Israel from May 14 through May 18. The letter follows a weeks-long social media campaign using the hashtag #MadonnaDontGo asking Madonna to refuse to take part in the event in support of Palestinian human rights, as well as calls for a general boycott of the event under the hashtag #BoycottEurovision2019.
In response to calls to boycott Eurovision, the Israeli government has said that it will not allow activists who plan to disrupt the competition into the country.
The Eurovision boycott is part of the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement—a movement inspired by South African anti-apartheid activism—which calls for the boycott of Israeli goods and divestment from Israeli institutions that are complicit in Palestinian human rights violations.
Those in support of the Eurovision boycott have accused Israel of “artwashing apartheid” and believe that if Madonna chooses to continue with her May 18 performance in Tel Aviv, she will be helping obscure Israeli war crimes, state-sanctioned segregation, and more human rights violations. They’ve also pointed out that the majority of Palestinians are not able to attend Eurovision due to heavily restricted freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The far-right Israeli government and its supporters would love nothing more than to use your iconic artistic achievements and global philanthropy to obscure its crimes against humanity,” reads the open letter addressed to Madonna. “When the walls come crashing down and freedom and justice finally ring, we invite you to come and share your music with all of us on this land.”
Among the letter’s signees is Cherien Dabis, an actress and filmmaker who began her career as a writer on The L Word. “If Madonna truly stands for peace and equality, if she wants to be an agent of change, then she’ll have to stand alongside those who stood up to racism and imperialism and chose the right side of history,” she said.
Graphic novelist Leila Abdelrazaq also signed the letter. “As an artist, it’s imperative for me to support the Palestinian call for boycott, because it is the most basic way to support fellow Palestinian artists,” she said.
“When the walls come crashing down and freedom and justice finally ring, we invite you to come and share your music with all of us on this land.”
When asked for comment, Eurovision noted that the event will be held in Israel this year because Israel's public broadcaster, KAN, won the 2018 Eurovision Contest. It added that the contest's values are of "universality and inclusivity."
Madonna is by no means the first prominent performer asked to skip a performance in Israel. In 2017, after a similar campaign targeting Lorde, the singer decided to cancel a scheduled performance in Tel Aviv. “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” she wrote of her decision. In addition to Lorde, famous singers like Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, and Lauryn Hill have also canceled concerts in Israel in support of BDS.
“Prominent artists that refuse to perform in Israel have helped shine a spotlight on Israeli war crimes and apartheid,” Dabis said. “Boycotting has the power to more rapidly educate people about the human impact of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid and creates radioactivity around bad actors such as Israel.”
The Eurovision Song Contest begins tomorrow and is scheduled to continue until May 18. As of publication, Madonna, who has aligned herself with human rights causes throughout her career, has yet to comment on the #MadonnaDontGo campaign. Whether or not she will heed the call to boycott remains to be seen.
We have updated this story to include comment from Eurovision.