FEATURE: Drowned World/Substitute for Love: Madonna, Eurovision and the Ongoing Conflict Regarding Musicians Performing in Israel




Drowned World/Substitute for Love


Madonna, Eurovision and the Ongoing Conflict Regarding Musicians Performing in Israel


THIS is not the first time I have...

 IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Israel/PHOTO CREDIT: @john_visualz/Unsplash

looked at Israel in a controversial light. Due to ongoing conflicts in the country, it is always difficult for artists to know whether they should play there. I shall come to that later but, right now, Madonna’s planned appearance at this year’s Eurovision (in Israel) is receiving some backlash. It is great that such an iconic artist would choose to play something, well, a little bit cheesy. I do not know why she is playing but there is talk she will perform a new track alongside a classic. Given the fact Madonna has pushed Pop and inspired so many artists, maybe it is not a shock to find her supporting Eurovision! It seems, as this article shows, there are those asking for withdrawal and reconsideration:

 “A group of Palestinian Arab academics and intellectuals are pressing Madonna to abandon her plans to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be held in Israel next month.

The European Broadcasting Union confirmed earlier this week that the pop icon will take the stage in Tel Aviv on May 28. It will be her fourth time performing in the Jewish state.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) - part of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign – has called on her to cancel the performance, suggesting her appearance would be used by the Israeli government "to mask its deepening oppression of Palestinians."

A statement posted to social media by PACBI and quoted by SBS News read, "Palestinians hope that you will not undermine our struggle for freedom, justice and equality by performing at Eurovision in apartheid Tel Aviv, on the ruins of the ethnically-cleansed village of al-Shaykh Muwannis.”

"The call from Palestinian artists to boycott Eurovision hosted by Israel is supported by more than 100,000 people signing petitions, over 100 LGBTQIA groups, more than 20 Israeli artists, and hundreds of prominent international artists including the 1994 Eurovision winner,” the organization said.

"Israel's fanatic, far-right government is cynically exploiting your performance, and those of the contestants, to mask its deepening oppression of Palestinians," it charged”.

I have addressed the Israel issue before and whether artists should play there right now. In previous articles, I asked whether it was fair to deny fans the chance to see their favourite artists. Many Israeli citizens cannot afford to travel to another country/part of Israel to see a gig – hoping to avoid tension and judgement. Madonna is playing Eurovision, not to stir trouble or create publicity – although she has a new album coming soon -, but to deliver something special to the people. It is sad when politics and conflict impacts on music and creates negative energy around artists. Madonna does not have a political standpoint regarding the issues in Israel and is not looking to back either side. Instead, she just wants to perform and contribute to a special night. One could say that  music has nothing to do with politics –many seem to disagree. Madonna is known for supporting the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community and, back in the 1980s/1990s, putting the AIDS crisis into focus and generally raising her voice when it was required. She could easily weigh in on the debate and speak out but, rather than stir a hornet’s nest, she has remained relatively quiet. The iconic artists has been performing around the world for years and I do not think it is right for anyone to say whether she should be at Eurovision or not.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Machane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem/PHOTO CREDIT: @roxannedesgagnes/Unsplash

Other nations have issue regarding warring factions or there are political tensions but, in many cases, artists are not accused and told to stay away. Musicians want to connect with their fans and are not supporting atrocities when they play in nations ravaged by division. I have been reading an article from DAZED - written early last year - that looked back at the occasions where various artists have been faced with that questions: Do I play Israel or sit this one out?

When Lorde announced a slew of international tour dates in support of her second album Melodrama last month, a scheduled show at Tel Aviv’s Convention Centre drew immediate criticism. An open letter titled “Dear Lorde, here’s why we’re urging you not to play Israel” was posted to The Spinoff, with the New Zealand musician subsequently cancelling the show. “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen… but I’m not proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” she said in a statement

The controversy may seem familiar to music fans. Last year, Radiohead ended up in a similar situation with a show they had booked for Tel Aviv – but unlike Lorde, they went ahead despite the backlash. In recent years, artists from Lana Del Rey to Nick Cave have all drawn controversy over their decisions to either perform or not perform in Israel, while last August, more than eight artists withdrew from Berlin’s Pop-Kultur festival over its partnership with the Israeli Embassy”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Lorde/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

It seems, as Madonna will find, that whatever decision you make will result in backlash. If you perform in Israel then you are seen as sympathetic to the horrors being witnessed but, if you stay away then you are creating disappointment and anger from fans. How does someone like Madonna face something like this?! I feel it is hugely unlikely she will pull out of her planned performance because there are no ramifications or problems. She might draw a small protest but Eurovision’s sheer size and celebration means that will be all drowned out. One can look back at when Paul Simon recorded in South Africa during Apartheid when recording Graceland. He got a lot of flak for that but, more than anything, he helped raise awareness and give South African musicians a voice. I do feel artists can play in Israel and actually inspire change – rather than create this sense of divide and hate. The DAZED article continued and looked at an organisation that is stepping in:

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS is a non-violent, Palestinian-led campaign that protests the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. As Amnesty International report, Israel has occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip for decades in violation of various international and human rights laws.

BDS argues that the music industry should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other industry that’s operating within Israel. PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) agrees, saying that Israel uses culture as a weapon and a form of propaganda to whitewash, or ‘art-wash’, the actions of the state. “The cultural boycott of Israel is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle,” says PACBI’s Stephanie Adam. “(During the 1980s) international artists refused to play Sun City in response to the calls of Black South Africans not to do ‘business as usual’ with apartheid.”

IN THIS PHOTO: Gil Scott-Heron/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Many musicians have supported the cultural boycott. Scheduled concerts from Lauryn Hill to the late Gil Scott-Heron have all been axed in the past, while Princess Nokia cancelled her slot at Kalamazoo Festival last year. Outside of Israel itself, BDS asks artists to decline participation in anything sponsored by the Israeli government, which is what happened at Berlin’s Pop-Kultur last year. This year, over 100 artists (including Brian Eno, Kathleen Hanna, Talib Kweli, and Roger Waters) have signed an open letter supporting Lorde’s decision to cancel her Tel Aviv show, while rapper Vic Mensa recently penned an op-ed describing his experiences in Palestine.

However, many musicians have gone ahead with scheduled performances in Israel despite calls to cancel. Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Macy Gray have all played (though Gray later said she regretted it), while two high profile examples last year came from Radiohead and Nick Cave. Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Nick Cave said he wanted to “make a principled stand against anyone who wants to censor and silence musicians.” When Radiohead went ahead with their Tel Aviv show, frontman Thom Yorke issued a statement: “Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing the government… We don’t endorse (Israeli Prime Minister) Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America. Music, art, academia is about crossing borders not building them”.

Would artists like Madonna be turning a blind eye and encouraging the current state of affairs if they boycotted? I do not see what artists have to gain from overlooking Israel. Their fans are being denied and it is ridiculous telling musicians to stay away. Unless an artist has an overt political opinion that could exacerbate the situation then I see no harm in them performing. Surely?!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

With conflict in Israel still raging and there being this gulf, how long is it going to be until artists can safely and ethically play in the country? I guess there are neutral zones and areas where they can perform but it seems extreme having this map of regions they can play and keep everyone happy. Music has the power to break barriers and bring people together but, right now, there is too much separation. The latest incident regarding Israel and their views regarding outside artists playing gets me wondering. Madonna, I hope, will play and not feel quelled but you have to ask whether, in a short time, artists will be banned altogether. There are problems in multiple countries around the world but very few of them have created such discussion as Israel. The Israeli music scene is so strong and vibrant and I feel like it is being robbed or substance and support – so many artists from the West feeling they have to boycott. I do hope that Madonna is not tarred and feathered and feels she needs to rationalise her decision to play next month. I do feel like she can be a positive influence in this situation and show that, above all else, the music is king and she is not spreading propaganda. It is a shame that artists have to face such attack and pressure when performing in a country. If we deny fans the chance to see their favourite artists them we are robbing them of something precious. For the sake of everyone in Israel and musicians, let’s hope that there is an end to the conflicts…


VERY soon indeed.