One of the hosts of the Eurovision Song Contest has responded to the planned anti-Israel boycott.
Assi Azar, an Israeli television host, is a gay man who will be one of the four presenters at the contest in Tel Aviv this May.
He has said that boycotts are a ‘message of hate’.
Boycott of Eurovision as it’s in Israel
This year’s Eurovision is already proving controversial.
More than 60 queer and trans liberation organizations are calling for a boycott of Eurovision as the contest in Israel this year.
The majority of signatories are Palestinian queer groups.
Others include the National LGBT Committee for UNISON, ACT UP groups in France and the UK, and the Gay Liberation Network.
Petition started by Palestinian LGBTI people
Haneen Maikey, director of alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, commented:
‘As Palestinian queers, we are heartened by the increasing numbers of LGBTQIA communities taking a stand against Israel’s pinkwashing agenda in a true show of effective solidarity.
‘LGBTQIA communities are refusing to allow queer and trans liberation to be used by the Israeli regime of oppression as a progressive smoke screen to conceal its violent oppression of Palestinians. They are saying, “Our rights are indivisible from the rights of all oppressed communities.”
‘Joining and promoting the call to boycott Eurovision 2019 in Israel and Tel Aviv Pride help expose the Israeli government’s reprehensible co-opting of queer rights as a public relations tool to hide its crimes against Palestinians.
‘They strike a blow to its shameful pinkwashing strategy to maintain its apartheid regime and its decades-old colonization and occupation of Palestine.’
Pinkwashing is a term that some use to say Israel boasts of LGBTI equality as a way to ignore other human rights abuses.
Eurovision has not responded to the petition.
Eurovision host responds to plans for a boycott
However, Azar has responded in an exclusive interview with Gay Star News.
He said: ‘I say to everyone that wants to boycott…. by boycotting you will never learn or understand the other side.
‘It’s a very good lesson to learn for me. My husband, before he moved to Israel, he thought that Israel was the worst place on the planet.
‘He thought it was full of racist people fighting against each other. We move to Israel and now my husband is an ambassador for Israel.
‘When you move to a certain place, you see people are people. You get good people and bad people. For me, my family and friends – we are people of peace.
‘We want to live in peace next to our neighbors. That’s what I think Eurovision is all about. Live and let live, love and let love.’
Boycotting ‘a message of hate’
Azar said he feels boycotting is a ‘message of hate’.
‘I used to do lectures in universities around the states and people would protest,’ he added.
‘What would people get from boycotting me, someone who supports women, supports LGBT people. If you’re going to protest, why not protest politicians?
‘I’m Israeli. I love my country. I grew up in my country. My parents raised me well. I’m gay, I’m 40 years old, and I want to start a family soon.
‘My country allows that. My country allows me to feel like I’m equal.
‘I have criticisms of my country.’
‘There are some things to change especially in the terms of the Palestinians. You’re not allowed to get married if you’re gay in Israel and that needs to change.
‘But I definitely, when it’s needed, I have criticisms of my country. But when I travel outside, I will always defend my country.’
He concluded: ‘Criticism is always allowed.
It’s also extremely important for me to say it out loud, I’m proud to be Israeli and I’m proud of my country.
‘We’ve also done many things that are great and amazing to our country, to our neighbors, and to the world.’
The government is also prepared for any protests.
‘Israel is fully aware that anti-Israel BDS activists will try to disrupt Eurovision,’ said foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
‘We will open our doors to all, as long as those people do not come here as enemies.’
The grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv is on 18 May.