A scene from Saturday's final of the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition held in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Andres Putting)

The Netherlands Conquers Politicized Eurovision Song Competition

Organizers might punish Iceland contestants for displaying Palestinian flags; attendees divided over Madonna performance

The Netherlands’ Duncan Lawrence has won the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, beating out 25 other performers in Saturday night’s final in Tel Aviv.

After the fans’ votes were tallied, Lawrence finished with 492 points, enough to bring home his country’s first crown since 1975. Italy’s act came in second place (465 points), ahead of Russia’s entrant who rounded out the top three (369 points). Israel’s competitor, Kobi Marimi, came in 23rd place overall.

Forty-one nations participated in the annual extravaganza, whose estimated Saturday television audience of nearly 200 million people was treated to a guest appearance by Madonna. However, the Material Girl ruffled some feathers after effectively politicizing her performance by having side-by-side dancers, one sporting a costume bearing an Israeli flag and the other a get-up depicting the Palestinian flag, embrace on stage.

Iceland’s contestants also held up Palestinian flags during the voting process.

Dr. Dean Vuletic, a Eurovision expert and historian at the University of Vienna who attended Thursday’s semi-finals in Israel, believes the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which manages the event, could punish Iceland for defying the company’s policies.

“The [EBU] can issue warnings, a fine, [or] even ban Iceland,” Vuletic told The Media Line, before qualifying that Reykjavik would likely only get a slap on the wrist. “Eurovision has always been a platform for political and social messages so the fact that it was also drawn into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year is really nothing new,” he explained.

Vuletic also praised local planners for putting on a good show, even while expressing reserved criticism about certain elements of this year’s competition.

“The city had a very lively atmosphere,” he stressed, “but I have to say that the biggest mistake made by the organizers was the high ticket prices—they were just so much higher than anywhere I’ve ever been before.” Vuletic added that “accommodation prices were also very high a few months before the contest and all of a sudden they went down. I definitely noticed that there were fewer tourists and fewer fans because of the prices.”

Finally, he deemed it a mistake to have invited Madonna to perform, as “she was paid a lot of money for that.”

Indeed, Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams shelled out a reported $1 million for the music icon’s appearance fee.

“Madonna was the worst performance….[and] many people were [left] disappointed,” Noa, a Tel Aviv resident, recounted to The Media Line.

Nevertheless she said “the show was great, the atmosphere was great” and, overall, “people were dancing and had a really nice evening.”

Still others were impressed by the superstar power Madonna brought to a competition that is relatively unknown outside of Europe.

“[I] like that she came [because] it adds global musicians and expands Eurovision to other markets in the world,” Nir Kouris, former CEO of the Israel-Netherlands Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Media Line. “We shouldn’t put the key focus on [the politics], what was good about the show was non-political.

“It was a celebration,” he elaborated, “there were tons of people and there was lot of energy and excitement.”

Kouris was happy The Netherlands won the contest, an outcome he predicted.

“I heard the song and I just knew this was a great [act],” he said. “I represent the Dutch community in Israel. Amsterdam and Tel Aviv are twin cities.”

Eurovision took place in Israel by virtue of Netta Barzilai’s victory in the 2018 event.

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