The Israeli organisers of this year’s Eurovision feared that some of the competitors, under pressure from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, might inject politics into their performances.
In the end, however, it was Eurovision’s special guest star, Madonna, who used her performance to make a political statement.
This year’s competition was more political than usual, held against the backdrop of a campaign by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that urged artists, fans and broadcasters to shun the event to protest against Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza.
While no singers or broadcasters pulled out, pop superstar Madonna sprang a surprise during her guest performance of two songs – her iconic 1989 hit “Like A Prayer” and a new number, “Future,” sung alongside the American rapper Quavo.
At the close of the second number, two backing dancers briefly appeared on stage wearing the Israeli and Palestinian flags on the back of their costumes.
When many tried to convince Madonna to boycott Jewish self-determination and persistence, she got on the #Eurovision stage with an Israeli and Palestinian flag in support of co-existence.
— Ariel Sobel (@arielsobelle) May 18, 2019
The European Broadcasting Union, which co-produced the contest alongside Israel’s national broadcaster, issued a statement immediately after her performance. “This element of the performance was not 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,” it said, according to a report by Reuters.
She defended her decision, issuing a statement earlier in the week that she would always speak up to defend human rights, and that she hoped to see “a new path toward peace.”
Hatari, Iceland’s entrant, held up small Palestinian banners live on air during voting. The EBU said the political display “directly contradicts the contest rules.”