Icy reception

Iceland pro-Palestinian band may sue El Al over bad plane seats

Eurovision contestants claim Israeli airline put them in middle seats in back of plane to protest display of Palestinian flags during song contest

Iceland's Hatari holds up Palestinian flags during Eurovision in Tel Aviv, May 19, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
Iceland's Hatari holds up Palestinian flags during Eurovision in Tel Aviv, May 19, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

Iceland’s entry in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Hatari, is considering filing a formal complaint with Israel’s El Al airline over claims ground crews intentionally seated the band’s members in undesirable seats on their Monday flight from Tel Aviv to London.

The techno-metal steampunk act won effusive jeers during the song contest in Israel for displaying Palestinian flags when it was shown on TV briefly during the vote-tally stage of the show.

According to the Icelandic news site mbl.is, the band was assigned the center seats in the plane’s three back rows — allegedly in an unspoken protest by the airline’s Israeli staff over thee band members’ own protest as its vote count was shown on screen early Sunday.

An Israeli identified by Icelandic media as Daher Dahli claimed on social media he had heard El Al ground staff boasting about the seat assignments, and quoted a staffer saying, “This is what they get.”

Hatari drummer Einar Stefansson jokingly thanked El Al for the “special treatment,” and accompanied his post with the hashtag “#coolkidssitintheback.”

The band first made waves in March by promising to use its Eurovision platform to highlight opposition to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The move drew a rebuke from Eurovision officials, who noted the contest was careful to avoid politicization.

In the end, Hatari’s performances in the contest went without incident, but the band snuck banners with Palestinian flags on them into the final announcement of the winners after the Saturday night final, and held them up when the camera turned to them.

After the protest gesture, band member Stefansson, sporting a spiked leather face mask, posted a video online showing security trying to confiscate the flags.

The European Broadcast Union said the flag display contradicted its rules and may carry consequences, according to Reuters.

On Sunday, the band placed the Palestinian flag at the top of its Instagram account.

These shows of solidarity did not impress the Palestinian boycott movement, however, which had pushed for bands to cancel their Eurovision appearances and said Sunday it “overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line.”

Felix Bergsson, a spokesman for the band, told the mbl.is site that he found the possibility that El Al crews seated the band in undesirable seats because of its politics “disturbing,” saying, “I’m not pleased with this kind of conduct.”

Bergsson said the group was considering filing a formal complaint with El Al, or with Icelandair, through which the band bought its tickets.

When Hatari’s members finally returned home to Iceland’s Keflavik airport on Monday night, they were greeted there by pro-Palestinian activists.

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