OPN_190411-Eurovision-Contest_P2-1554989086012
The Netherlands' singer Duncan Laurence (centre) poses with fans as he arrives to meet other 2019 Eurovision participants for a concert press day, a taste of the Eurovision Song Contest, in Amsterdam. Image Credit: AFP

It’s amazing what a cheque for $1 million (Dh3.67 million) will do. Just ask Madonna. She’s 60 this year, but is a living embodiment that wisdom doesn’t come with age.

The Michigan diva has agreed to accept that cheque as payment for her performing two songs during the Eurovision Song Contest, scheduled to be held in Israel in a month’s time. Accepting that cheque is an act of hypocrisy for a pop star who tweeted her support for Palestinian children as they were being showered with shells in the Gaza Strip five years ago.

And for the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, paying that cheque to guarantee an audience for the song fest is nothing short of moral blackmail. Every year, the song contest rolls around, a mid-spring made-for-television event that’s a platform for poor taste, poor songs and pure propaganda for the hosts.

It’s organised every year by the union of European broadcasters. Each nation in Europe submits a national entry, and the event has got so big now, there are two semi-final sing-offs to cut the show down into one final that’s long enough to ensure boredom, but entertaining enough to erase that boredom. Whoever wins the contest gets to host it the following year. And last year, Israel won — which is why it is hosting the events leading up to the final on May 14.

Why Israel is taking part in an event in Europe has to do with the fact that its rightly shunned by broadcasters in the Middle East and North Africa region. Why Australia gets to take part is anyone’s guess — maybe it has to do with their colonial past, but the fact is that Australia does indeed take part in the contest.

Madonna’s decision to perform at the Eurovision has at least now begun to elicit some response from her fans, who are concerned about the human rights abuses that are inflicted on Palestinians every day of their lives.

Sadly, there has been little effort to ensure that this year’s event in Israel is boycotted. Either it’s a general apathy towards the Eurovision itself, or a general apathy towards the Palestinian question itself.

Certainly, the viewing numbers for the annual event — more than 186 million tuned in to last year’s final night, making it the biggest single live television event of 2018 — would seem to suggest that there’s no apathy towards the competition. If indeed there is apathy across Europe towards the Palestinian cause, then that’s a sad day indeed.

One of the joys of watching the event is the actual announcement of the judges’ panels from each of the participating nations. As technology and satellite links have greatly eased communications, a lot of the hit-and-miss elements of trying to link up to cities across Europe in real time and on live television used to be a real challenge. Not anymore.

Old rivalries

But the politics of the event still reveal the old rivalries that are deep-seated despite the best efforts of the great European project. The Belgian jury doesn’t like awarding to the French; the Dutch jury won’t give to the Belgians; the French won’t give to the United Kingdom; the Russians won’t give it to Serbia; the Greeks and Turks won’t give to each other.

In short, if you want to know about the state of pan-European politics and old rivalries, then the Eurovision judging results say a lot. I’m sure that there’s a think tank somewhere that parses these results, or some student of political science is using it as source and research material for a post-doctoral thesis. On the basis of that, and given what’s happening or not happening with the Brits and Brexit, you can rest assured that no matter how good the UK song is, it’s unlikely to place.

On the basis of what’s happening in the Occupied Territories and given the results of the Israeli general election, there’s every reason now why this event should indeed be boycotted.

Sadly, that won’t be the case, and you can rest assured that the event will be very carefully choreographed by the Israelis. The usual tourist-promotion shots won’t include shots of the fence that keeps Palestinians from their farms, won’t show occupation force marksmen gunning down protesters inside the Gaza Strip; or won’t show the jails in which Palestinians are held without charge on rolling detention orders.

It will instead show Madonna. And that’s a shame. And a shame that Europe’s broadcasters are taking part. And that so many will tune in, oblivious or uncaring to what’s really going on there.