Puttin’ on the glitz: 7 things to know for May 19
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Israel media review

Puttin’ on the glitz: 7 things to know for May 19

Israel’s hosting of the Eurovision is heralded locally as a success. The same cannot be said of Iceland or Madonna’s attempts at bringing a political message to the show

Bilal Hassani of France, right, performs the song "Roi" during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Bilal Hassani of France, right, performs the song "Roi" during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

1. Highly anticipated: Israel’s year-long dalliance with the Eurovision Song Contest came to a extravagant end early Sunday with pretty much everything happening as most thought it would.

  • The acts were over the top and kitschy, the crowd, made up of the type of people who would pay thousands of shekels to see Eurovision live, was very into it and The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, heavily favored by bookies, easily took home the prize with only a modicum of manufactured suspense.
  • Israel’s Kobi Marimi lost badly, just as everyone thought he would, but few people cared anyway, and pro-Palestinian protests were kept to a few small asides within the convention center, mostly courtesy of Iceland’s kink-metal band, and a small-scale demonstration outside.

2. Like screamers: Perhaps the biggest surprise, aside from Madonna burying what was left of her career and becoming the butt of the show rather than its star, was the fact that there were no major surprises.

  • The praise in the Israeli press for the show is as over the top as the contest’s acts, presenting it as the culmination of endless trials and tribulations.
  • “Despite the loss, Israel has already won,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom, whose front page borrows the biblical phrase “we were like dreamers,” putting Eurovision on par with the Jewish return to Zion after 70 years in Babylonian exile.
  • “Douze points goes to those who put on the massive show, which will certainly go down in musical and Israeli TV history,” writes Yedioth Ahronoth’s Raz Shechnik, using the French phrase for “12 points” popularized by the contest.
  • “It was an amazing night,” writes Walla’s Nadav Menuhin. “Despite the lame winner, despite the fact that most (maybe all) of the songs were forgettable, despite the low number of points we got, despite Madonna’s terrible performance, despite the saga of her contract, despite the coverage that lost all proportionality, despite the fights over money and budget. Despite it all, Eurovision in Israel delivered what it promised: a colorful musical party and an amazing night.”
  • “The way there wasn’t easy … and Europe also didn’t make it easy … but we won’t remember any of that after hosting the European contest in the Middle East,” writes Israel Hayom’s Raz Yisraeli. “What will be remembered? We will remember Tel Aviv’s outstanding job hosting, the city getting dressed up festively, the parties on every corner and the largest Eurovision Village ever, hosting some 500,000 people …”

3. Cold reception: Actually what will probably be remembered most are Iceland and Madonna.

  • Iceland will be recalled for sending the band Hatari, which had promised to use the Eurovision spotlight to expose the “face of the occupation,” but ended up just flashing some Palestinian flags as its vote tally was announced.
  • The Associated Press notes that the move earned the band boos from the hometown crowd and Reuters reports that the European Broadcast Union said the display “directly contradicts the contest rules,” hinting there could be consequences for the move.
  • Palestinians didn’t welcome the display with open arms either: The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel dismissed the display as a “fig leaf,” and said in a statement the band should have boycotted like it threatened to do.
  • But perhaps the most noteworthy thing to come out of Iceland’s techno-punk performance was the sign language interpreter’s version of their song “Hatro Mun Sigra” or “Hatred will Prevail,” in all its death metal glory, which has gone viral, for quite obvious reasons.

4. Madonna, don’t preach: Also memorable for all the wrong reasons is Madonna’s highly touted performance, which was out of tune, autotuned, and strange, from her eyepatch to her backup dancers’ gas masks.

  • Going over even worse is her attempt at thrusting in a political message, hammering home overtly political lyrics by having dancers with Israeli and Palestinian flags pinned to their back walk hand in hand off the stage, in a move that apparently caught organizers off guard.
  • The EBU chides her and others aren’t much kinder, with Israelis, Palestinians and others agreeing that the shtick was pointless.
  • “This is such hollow feel-good bullshit,” tweets Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada.
  • In the Telegraph, Madonna is described as a “One-eyed space pirate [who] sucks the fun out of the room.”
  • “In Israel where decades-long military occupation and apartheid policies are the status quo, no on-stage message of ‘dialogue’ or ‘inclusivity’ will bring the required structural change for Palestinians and Israelis to live in equality,” Israeli composer Ohal Grietzer writes in The Independent.
  • Raz Yisraeli in Israel Hayom complains that the “most anticipated show was the most uncomfortable for the home crowd.”

5. Like a payday: Madonna herself seems to respond to the controversy, tweeting a clip of the flag-bearing dancers and writing that “Madame X,” the name of her new album and maybe her alter ego, is a “freedom fighter.”

  • Daniel Ben-Naim, who produced Madonna’s Eurovision show, tells the Globes financial daily that all the controversies were worth it, since “she brought us ratings.”
  • “I’m ready for more technical difficulties if it means she will come again,” he tells Channel 12 news.

6. Where are all the fans? Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan-Sommer says the show went off nearly perfectly except for one major problem, “The throngs of fans traveling from Europe to cheer on the 41 participating countries who were supposed to crowd the streets of Tel Aviv simply never materialized.”

  • The problem was not BDS, she says, but rather “it was a self-inflicted wound, with a government that did not subsidize massive Eurovision-linked tourism campaigns, subsidize packages or, most important, underwrite the costs of the huge production, resulting in sky-high ticket prices for the show.”
  • But there were plenty of excited traveling fans in the Eurovision press room, reports ToI’s Jessica Steinberg, who was ensconced among them for the show.
  • “They wore plastic crowns for Hassani, donned silver cardboard tiaras for Australia’s Miller-Heidke and her swaying stilts, yelled “Na Na Na” with glee during the San Marino set, and were particularly loyal to North Macedonia’s Tamara Todevska, who was performing in her fourth Eurovision and appeared to be close to winning during the jury count,” she writes.
  • Australian Jacob Strange tells Reuters he flew 28 hours, including two layovers, to attend the show. “We love Eurovision back in Australia,” he says.

7. Predictable and fatal: Snapping Israel right back into reality is a fatal work accident that should also come as no surprise, as four workers are killed by a collapsing crane on a Yavne work site.

  • According to activists protesting workplace deaths in Israel, Sunday’s crane collapse raised the toll at construction sites since the beginning of the year to 20.
  • How predictable was this accident? Haaretz’s lead editorial, which was prepared days ago, takes the government to task for workers, mostly foreigners, being killed at poorly supervised construction sites.
  • “This deadly routine is the result of the Israeli government’s indifference to the lives of the people who work in the country, combined with building contractors’ and developers’ disregard for the law,” the editorial reads. “The dozens of people who are killed and the hundreds who are injured each year share one salient characteristic: They are not Jewish. Apparently, the lives of foreign workers and Palestinians from Israel and the territories are worth less.”
  • In Yedioth, in another column prepared before this newest accident, Ofer Petersburg writes that the solution is not difficult and should not cost billions.
  • “All you need are a few simple solutions: Closing and sealing the site off to anyone but authorized workers, a net around the building and railings on each opening, a total ban on working without harnesses, a helmet or boots. That’s all that’s needed to cut down on worker injuries by 75 percent,” he writes. “So easy and simple, but nobody will do anything and the list of those hurt continues to grow.”
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