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Music Madonna dancers, Iceland band criticized for showing Palestinian flag during Eurovision TV final in Israel

Eurovision Song Contest organizers say they were taken aback by the display of a Palestinian flag during Madonna’s guest appearance, which defied contest rules.

Separately, the Israeli broadcaster of the Eurovision Song Contest said on Sunday that an unauthorized display of Palestinian flags by Iceland’s band could draw “punishment” from the event’s organizers.

While Madonna performed her new single, two of her dancers flashed Israeli and Palestinian flags pinned on their backs.

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The European Broadcast Union, or EBU, said Sunday that Madonna had not cleared that part of the act with broadcasters and “was advised as to the non-political nature of the event.”

Yet most reactions to Madonna’s performance had nothing to do with her political gesture. Many panned her for singing off key.

Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams paid more than US$1-million to bring Madonna in for the event.

EBU also said it is considering “consequences” for Iceland’s performers, who whipped out a Palestinian flag during the vote tally.

The band Hatari from Iceland performs during the final of the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Sebastian Scheiner/The Associated Press

During the point-tally of Saturday’s final, members of the eclectic punk ensemble Hatari held up scarf-sized Palestinian flags. A vocalist, Klemens Nikulasson Hannigan, flashed a V-for-victory sign. Many in the Tel Aviv audience responded with boos.

In earlier remarks to Eurovision fan site wiwibloggs, Mr. Hannigan had criticized Israel’s settlements and what he described as its “apartheid” in occupied Palestinian territory.

The flag display, briefly caught on the live TV relay of the 41-country contest, marked the only disruption of a show that had been a focus of anti-Israel boycott calls, and drew a swift rebuke from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

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“The Icelanders will apparently be punished by the European Broadcasting Union, which is really not tolerant of those who violate its rules,” Eldad Koblenz, chief executive of the EBU’s Israeli counterpart Kan, told Ynet TV.

An EBU spokesman declined direct comment, saying the matter was under discussion.

EBU rules allow for disqualifying contestants who do not abide by requirements for a “non-political event.” Asked what other penalties might be available, the spokesman said: “In the past there have been financial sanctions for rule breaches.” He did not elaborate on these cases or sums.

Hatari’s song Hate Will Prevail, during which the leather- and latex-clad performers thrashed around a grenade-shaped globe as flames shot from the stage, came 10th of the 26 finalists.

Their flag display did not impress the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, which had urged countries to shun the Tel Aviv Eurovision. None did.

“Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line #Hatari,” the campaigners said on Twitter.

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Mr. Koblenz was more upbeat about a political display by Madonna, whose much-anticipated, two-song guest performance in the final featured two back-up dancers, with Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs, walking in an embrace.

“We are very happy that she came, certainly in a reality where very few artists are prepared to come to Israel,” he said, while allowing that “perhaps she’s had more successful shows”.

Madonna, who has previously performed in Israel and is a devotee of Jewish mysticism, said on Twitter on Sunday that she was grateful “for the opportunity to spread the message of peace and unity with the world”.

Kan had no advance notice of Hatari’s or Madonna’s flag displays, Mr. Koblenz said: “That’s the price of a live broadcast.”

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