Israeli Eurovision: The Controversy of Performances and The Issues of Boycotting

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Israel hosting the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest caused controversy due to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Although the conflict dates back to the 19th Century and Israel has hosted Eurovision twice in Eurovision’s history (1979 and 1999) boycotts have never been seen on such a level as this year. Many groups urged viewers to boycott, but how did the conflict affect the performances and audience this year?

Eurovision argue that politics has nothing to do with the show, but it is hard to deny that politics is interwoven with it. Iceland, in particular, were notable for bringing politics into the show. Palestinian flags were banned from the show, yet while the Iceland vote was announced the trip held up banners the colour of the Palestinian flag with the word ‘Palestine’. Eurovision organisers said that they would be discussing the “consequences of this action” as it “is a non-political event and this directly contradicts the contest rule”. It was later announced that they would be fined for this display, and they stuck by this fine even following an appeal. Hatari, Iceland’s performing group, are known to be supporters of the Israel boycott movement (BDS) and were warned in advance they would be disqualified if they brought the conflict into the show. Despite their politically involved performance, they still placed 10th.

Madonna’s infamous performance at the end of the night also came under severe scrutiny. Not only was her political statement not approved by the Eurovision organisers, it also appeared to many that her statement missed the mark. The Israeli and Palestinian flags on the back of her dancers’ backs, designed to show unity between the two, were discrete and only on the backs of two dancers at the end of the show, and was also not approved or performed in the rehearsal. The dancers were also wearing gas masks which certainly at first seemed like a step too far. Madonna said she is grateful ‘for the opportunity to spread the message of peace and unity with the world’. But if Madonna had wanted to make a real statement she would have listened to pro-Palestinian activists and boycotted the performance altogether.

It seems that boycotts had some, but only minimal affect on viewing statistics. 182 million people tuned in to watch in 2019, compared to 186 million in 2018 and 204 million in 2016. But when performers are not even boycotting the performance, which is a greater statement than showing solidarity with Palestine at the show, it can’t also be placed on audiences to boycott too.

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