The Israeli director of the Eurovision Song Contest on Sunday said organizers did not notice that dancers accompanying pop star Madonna during the competition final bore Israeli and Palestinian flags, which they controversially displayed to the audience while on stage.
Madonna drew criticism over the incident, which violated Eurovision’s strict guidelines against any form of political display during the show.
“Madonna went up with her two dancers without us seeing the flags,” Meital Cohen told Army Radio a day after the final was held Saturday night in Tel Aviv. “We cut away from it quite fast, there were some crazy things that evening.”
The singer, 60, wasn’t the only one to brandish Palestinian symbols. At one point, members of Icelandic band Hatari waved scarves bearing the Palestinian flag at the camera as they waited to hear the scores awarded for their song.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev slammed the political protests.
“I think you shouldn’t involve politics in a cultural or musical event like this. I think it was a mistake and inappropriate, and with all due respect to Madonna things like that shouldn’t happen,” Regev told reporters as she headed to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Regev congratulated producers at the Kan public broadcasting corporation for the show, but held the broadcaster responsible for the flag incidents.
“You can’t ignore that there were Palestinian flags at an event of a public body, from the public budget,” she said. “It would not happen in any other country. There is a certain feeling that in our country everything is permitted and the government can’t become involved or oversee [this].”
Regev also lamented that video clips screened during Eurovision, showing off Israeli landscapes, did not include any footage from the West Bank.
“Judea and Samaria are not part of our country in the view of the [Kan] Corporation,” she said using the biblical names for the West Bank. “So why are we surprised by the Palestinian flags?”
Israel won the right to host the annual song contest after Israel singer Netta Barzilai took home the top prize last year.
Madonna, performing during the Grande Finale of the Eurovision, injected politics into her act with a call for peace in the lyrics of her new song “Future,” which featured two of her dancers wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs.
The flag-wearing pair were the last two dancers to leave the stage at the end of the song, at which point Madonna and co-performer Quavo dramatically disappeared from the back of the stage with the message “Wake Up,” which also flashed on screen.
Aside from the flag kerfuffle, Madonna drew scorn for the flatness of her voice as she belted out two numbers.
“As well as being off-key and a poor performer, Madonna managed to violate the EBU’s principle of non-political engagement by adding the Israeli and Palestinian flags to the back of two dancers backs,” tweeted Reuters Paris Bureau chief Luke Baker. “What a waste of money she was.”
UK television personality Piers Morgan tweeted “RIP Madonna’s career” and Graham Norton, who provided Eurovision commentary for the BBC, noted, “A slightly muted response to Madonna in the hall I would say,” the Daily Mail reported.
Madonna’s appearance at the show, for which she reportedly charged $1.3 million, had been dogged by controversy. Boycott campaigners called on her not to participate in the event. And even after the singer arrived in Israel for rehearsals last Tuesday there were lingering doubts as to whether she would actually be permitted onstage as she did not sign the contract for her brief performance until Thursday.
Regev had clashed with Kan last year as she sought government involvement in planning the event while organizers pushed back against any politicization of the contest.