Madonna and Icelandic entry Hatari brought politics to the Eurovision grand final in Tel Aviv with their display of Palestinian flags during the live broadcast on Saturday 18thMay.
A glamourous annual celebration of European music and culture, Israel hosted this year’s contest after the victory of Netta Barzilai in 2018. But the location has sparked considerable controversy due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The run up to the contest was accompanied by demonstrations, online campaigns and calls for artists to boycott the event by organisations such as the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Their main criticism has been that Israel is “artwashing” its actions towards Palestinians.
As the live final was underway, protestors outside the Expo centre in Tel Aviv chanted “songs and glitter cannot hide homeland being occupied”. Organisers had put in place strict security measures inside the arena amid worries of such protests disrupting the broadcast.
But the big political statements of the night came from the performers themselves.
At the end of Madonna’s much-anticipated interval performance, two dancers walked together holding hands, with Palestinian and Israeli flags on the backs of their costumes. Many have interpreted the performance as a call for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Yet a key aspect of Eurovision is its political neutrality rules. In a statement, the European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event each year along with the national broadcaster, said they were unaware of Madonna’s plans. “This element was not part of the rehearsals which had been cleared with the EBU and the host broadcaster, KAN. The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna had been made aware of this.”
The Icelandic entry Hatari also took the opportunity to make a political statement. After receiving their points from the public vote, the camera cut to the band as they held up Palestinian banners.
Afterwards, band member Stefán Ágústsson posted a video on Twitter showing security attempting to confiscate the banners.
The EBU’s statement on the band’s actions read: “The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and this directly contradicts the contest’s rules. The banners were quickly removed and the consequences of this action will be discussed by the Reference Group (the contest’s executive board) after the contest.” Depending on the outcome of these discussions, the Icelandic broadcaster, RÚV, may face sanctions from the EBU.
Despite the contest’s aim to be non-political, this is not the first time politics has crept into the event. Nevertheless, this year’s contest has been termed by many as one of the most political in history.