There were not one, but two appearances of Palestinian flags at the Eurovision grand final on Saturday night in Tel Aviv. And both instances were later condemned by the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the show.
The first came during a performance by Madonna and guest star Quavo of her latest single, “Future.” As the pop superstar sang the lyrics “Not everyone is coming to the future/ Not everyone is learning from the past/ Not everyone can come into the future/ Not everyone that’s here is gonna last,” the dancers on stage at the Expo Tel Aviv paired off and walked up the stairs hand in hand. Two of the dancers had flags emblazoned on their backs: one Palestinian and one Israeli.
Almost an hour later, during the announcement of the televotes from around the world, the Palestinian flag made another appearance. Eurovision co-host Erez Tal told the BDSM-supporting anti-capitalist band Hatari of Iceland that they were given 186 points from global voters. The camera cut to the green room, where the band was sitting alongside the other delegations. The band members unrolled several banners reading “Palestine” and decorated with the Palestinian flag.
Hatari has been outspoken and heavily critical of the Israeli government for months, and said they would use the scrutiny of the competition to draw attention to Palestinians. During their time in the country, they toured Hebron and, in an interview for a Eurovision blog, said the “apartheid” was clear in the city.
Shortly after the contest ended, the EBU made it clear that neither appearance of the Palestinian flag was sanctioned or pre-approved. Regarding Madonna, organizers said that: “this element of the performance was not part of the rehearsals that 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.”
On Instagram on Sunday afternoon, Madonna cited a representative saying that “a message of peace is not political.” And on Twitter, the singer wrote: “Madame X is a freedom fighter,” referencing the name of her upcoming album. “I am grateful. For the opportunity to spread the message of peace and unity with the world.” When it came to Iceland, however, the EBU indicated it was considering punitive action against the country.
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and this directly contradicts the contest rules,” the EBU said early Sunday morning. “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.”
One band member, Einar Stefannson, posted a video on Instagram shortly after the incident, showing staff members of KAN confiscating the banners from the group. Felix Bergsson, Iceland’s delegation head, told the country’s public broadcaster RUV that he didn’t know the band was planning such a demonstration, but he supported it.
“This is the decision of the artists and we really respect it,” he said. “They wanted to make this statement and they were able to do it in the end.” Soon after waving the Palestinian banners backstage during the Eurovision grand finale, Hatari published a banner with the Palestinian flag on its official Instagram page. On the account, three pictures that created a flag of Palestine were posted, with no other writing or description to it. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel slammed Hatari’s actions in a statement on Twitter.
“Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line,” it said while posting a picture of the band holding the Palestine banners.
“Artists who insist on crossing the Palestinian boycott picket line, playing in Tel Aviv in defiance of our calls, cannot offset the harm they do to our human rights struggle by ‘balancing’ their complicit act with some project with Palestinians,” it wrote. “Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects this fig-leafing. The most meaningful expression of solidarity is to cancel performances in apartheid Israel.”
The campaign added that while it appreciates “gestures of solidarity, we cannot accept them when they come with an act that clearly undermines our nonviolent human rights movements.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.