De-hyphenation, Madonna and Iceland’s bad guys

It will be interesting to see the results next week of the very real voting in the European Parliament elections.

Madonna performs at 2019 Eurovision Song Contest (photo credit: ORIT PNINI/KAN)
Madonna performs at 2019 Eurovision Song Contest
(photo credit: ORIT PNINI/KAN)
Sometimes I feel like shouting “Stop the hyphenation!” The urge is not the occupational hazard of a writer and editor. It’s a political statement. Or a call against politicization.
I first became aware of the concept of “de-hyphenation” a few years ago when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi instituted a policy under which his country’s relationship with Israel would be independent of India’s ties to the Palestinians. In short, the linking of Israel and “Palestine” would no longer be automatic.
I can understand why India, of all countries, would emphasize this idea. After all, India and Pakistan were created at the same time as Israel, in very similar circumstances – following the collapse of the British Empire. Millions of refugees fled from India to Pakistan and vice versa and even today there are disputed territories between the two countries. Nonetheless, India and Pakistan are not always linked in one breath as geopolitical Siamese twins.
The urge to scream out against the hyphenation was particularly strong last Saturday night when I got a closer look at Madonna’s Eurovision act. Or stunt. Ignoring well-known European Broadcasting Union regulations aimed at avoiding the politicization of the world’s biggest song contest, Madonna’s guest appearance included two dancers embracing, each with a flag on their backs – one with an Israeli flag, the other with a Palestinian flag.
It was meant as a call to peace but it fell flat (as did Madonna’s voice, incidentally. There’s a good reason she later remade the audio track of her appearance.) It’s not that I don’t want peace. Who in the right mind wouldn’t want peace? Especially as 700 rockets were launched from Gaza on civilian targets in Israel just a week before the Eurovision took place.
But the Material Girl who is now reinventing herself as Madame X was the only person to put politics on the hugely impressive Eurovision stage at Expo Tel Aviv.
Madonna was brought to the mega-event by Israeli-Canadian businessman and philanthropist Sylvan Adams. I was skeptical of the move from the start. Adams, who considers himself a “cultural ambassador” for Israel, obviously hoped that Madonna’s presence would give the Eurovision a boost when it was being hosted in Israel for the first time in 20 years. I felt it came from a very unfounded fear that Israel needed outside help.
Israel’s public broadcasting company KAN put on an amazing show, perfect for the Eurovision’s 200 million viewers. Supermodel Bar Refaeli was one of the four hosts – and if anything was a surprise, it was that she was at times outshone by co-hostess Lucy Ayoub, a talented journalist who is not particularly well known, even in Israel. Wonder Woman Gal Gadot provided an excellent video clip of things to do in Tel Aviv in the space of three minutes, the time allotted to a Eurovision song.
Dana International and Netta Barzilai put on a show in their own unique styles and Gali Atari showed the lasting magic of Israel’s 1979 winning song, “Hallelujah!” Talking of magic, I would have preferred to see more of mentalist Lior Suchard’s mind-bending act over Madonna’s tricks.
WHO STOLE the show? The Shalva Band, a group of young people who don’t let their disabilities stop them, had already stolen the hearts of Israelis when they competed for a chance to be Israel’s entrants this year. (They dropped out at an advanced stage because they didn’t want to desecrate the Sabbath with EBU-required Friday-night rehearsals.) Their guest performance during a semifinal last week caused even the most scathing Eurovision commentators, like Britain’s Graham Norton, to drop their cynicism. Their rendition of “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman brought tears to people’s eyes. Israel’s competitor Kobi Marimi also tapped into emotions when he burst into tears at the end of his song “Home.”
The “postcards” of each country’s contestants dancing against the backdrop of Israel’s diverse scenery – from the snowy Hermon to the beauty of the desert; Jerusalem’s majesty to the magnificent blue of the Mediterranean – were a visual treat.
Were there politics? Well, as always, the voting seemed to be divided into identifiable blocs. And I could understand those wags who wanted the UK to win just to see how it would host a display of European brotherly love post-Brexit. As it was, the UK came last out of the 26 finalists, which perhaps reflects European sentiment rather than the lack of merit of Michael Rice’s sentimental ballad “Bigger than Us.”
It will be interesting to see the results next week of the very real voting in the European Parliament elections.
The juries of country after country called in their votes, many using Hebrew phrases such as “erev tov” (good evening) and “todah rabah” (thank you.) But the by-now most infamous introduction of politics came when Iceland’s band Hatari, self-described as “techno-dystopian,” held up Palestinian banners as cameras were trained on them during Reykjavik’s voting.
Hatari had been literally looking for a fight: The band challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a traditional Icelandic trouser-grip wrestling match, vowing that if they won they would transform Tel Aviv into “the first liberal BDSM colony on the Mediterranean coast.” Were Netanyahu to win, Israel would get full control of a southern Icelandic island, they promised.
Their lyrics include “Hate will prevail/And Europe’s heart impale.” Not exactly the last word in progressive coexistence.
Ideas by outraged Israelis of what to do with the Icelandic band ranged from blasting their music at full volume at the Gazans rioting on the border in the regular “March of Return” to setting them loose in either the West Bank or Gaza in their scanty bondage, sadomasochistic costumes. They had already toured Hebron presumably fully dressed; there’s a limit to even their sadomasochism.
Ultimately, the joke really was on them. The best laugh came from reading the Twitter statement of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel blasting the Icelandic group: “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. Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects this fig-leafing. The most meaningful expression of solidarity is to cancel performances in apartheid Israel.”
In other words, the hyperventilating hyphenators are not interested in peace or anything that could be interpreted as normalization. To a certain extent, this was also seen in the non-binding resolution passed by the German government last week that declared, “The argumentation patterns and methods used by the BDS movement are antisemitic” and banned governmental support to organizations backing BDS.
Perhaps we can thank Madonna for resisting calls by Roger Waters and his ilk to boycott the Eurovision in Tel Aviv, even if she then felt compelled to try to do a balancing act. True support of Israel does not need to be framed with the Palestinian prism.
Using its famous Start-Up Nation, out-of-the-box thinking, the Israeli broadcasting company managed to put on a show described by The Independent as “a watershed moment.”
Netherlands, which won this year’s contest and hence will host the 2020 Eurovision, have a hard act to follow. I hope the kitschy, good feeling created in Tel Aviv translates into Dutch. And not a word about Dutch colonies or politics.