During her much-anticipated Eurovision set Saturday night, Madonna appeared to call for peace between Israel – this year’s hosts – and Palestinians. Her set was undoubtedly the most controversial moment of the evening, but whether her statement sufficiently captured the nuance of the situation, or will be remotely useful in terms of de-escalating violence, is far less certain.
At the climax of her performance, while she and guest star rapper Quavo sang the lyrics “Not everyone is coming to the future/not everyone is learning from the past,” two of Madonna’s dancers turned to reveal the Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs, and climbed stairs on the stage with their hands and arms locked together. Madonna whispered the words “wake up” – which appeared in huge writing on the screen behind her – before falling backwards off the stage, hand-in-hand with Quavo.
While Madonna’s clearly well-meant point appeared to be to highlight both governments’ violent treatment of each another, the nuance of these events, and the capacity for a small spark to escalate into large-scale violence, was lost in her hand-holding finale.
Just two weeks ago, an intense weekend of violence that kicked off May 3 saw at least 23 people killed in Gaza, including two infants and two pregnant women, and four people killed in Israel, including a father of four.
Hostilities began when two Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli troops during weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel. A sniper in Gaza also wounded two Israeli soldiers near the border during the demonstrations.
As the confrontation escalated over the course of the weekend, Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza fired nearly 700 rockets into the country. The Israeli Army responded with around 350 airstrikes, including its first use of targeted killing in Gaza in years.
These actions were paused in a delicate ceasefire – mediated in part by Egypt and the United Nations, according to a direct source – which coincided with the start of the Eurovision contest.
An organization called “Breaking the Silence” started by former Israeli soldiers who want to see Israel withdraw from Palestinian territories, told CNN in advance of the Eurovision final: “For us, if you want to build bridges through music, you need to take apart walls that are being built by occupation.”
During a march on Tuesday, calling on Israel to end its actions in Gaza, one protester told CNN that “We want them to stop the [Eurovision] party, to come with us, to work together and to see that there is another thing that happens 100 kilometers from them – to see the lives [of people in Gaza and] to understand that this is also part of their life, because they affect each other. The life in Gaza affects the life in Israel, and the life in Israel affects the life in Gaza.”
Since Eurovision was hosted by Israel, many activists called for Madonna to boycott the event.
But the pop icon’s confidence in ignoring calls to boycott the competition from pro-Palestinian activist groups was evident however. In a pre-recorded message shown earlier during the finale Saturday, she warned the audience not to “underestimate the power of music to bring people together.”
She also bridged the songs “Like A Prayer” and “Future” during her set with the lines: “They are so naive, they think we are not aware of their crimes. We know that we are just not ready to act. The storm isn’t in the air, it’s inside of us. I want to tell you about love, and loneliness, but it’s getting late now. Can’t you hear outside of your supreme hoodie, the wind that’s beginning to howl.”
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The irony of a pop star accusing combatant forces of naivety so soon after claiming music as a powerful catalyst for peace in a decades-long conflict was obviously lost on her.
Defying her host and contravening the apolitical rules of Eurovision aside, Madonna didn’t do or say much besides create an obtuse spectacle against the backdrop of a frankly terrible song. While the sentiment that violence is bad is difficult to argue, it is not controversial. Her set had good intentions, but did little to distinguish between the positions of the Israeli and Palestinian governments, and unlike those who protested Eurovision, offered her audience no meaningful education of the conflict she alluded to.
In overriding the urges of those in the region who called for a boycott, Madonna made a simplistic showcase of a deadly and intricate standoff.