Eurovision 2019's Israel Location Draws Controversy Eurovision came to a close Saturday night in Tel Aviv, amid controversy over the song contest's location in Israel. A Dutch singer won, meaning next year's event will take place in the Netherlands.
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Eurovision 2019's Israel Location Draws Controversy

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Eurovision 2019's Israel Location Draws Controversy

Eurovision 2019's Israel Location Draws Controversy

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A Dutch heartthrob won last night's Eurovision Song Contest. The pop music competition is one of the world's biggest televised events with an estimated 200 million viewers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARCADE")

DUNCAN LAURENCE: (Singing) I spent all of the love I've saved. We were always a losing game.

MARTIN: That's the winning song "Arcade," performed by Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands. If you've never seen it, Eurovision is kind of pop music meets the Olympics, with singers representing two dozen countries. This year, Eurovision was held in Israel, which drew controversy, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Eurovision opened with a pop remix of "Hava Nagila," the Jewish wedding song.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NETTA BARZILAI: Ladies and gentlemen, live from Tel Aviv...

ESTRIN: Israel's spunky singer, Netta Barzilai.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARZILAI: Welcome to the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.

(APPLAUSE)

ESTRIN: When she won last year, Israel won the right to host. And she shouted, next year in Jerusalem. At that time, the U.S. had just moved its embassy there, siding with Israel's claims to a city Palestinians also claim. Most European countries opposed the U.S. move, so there were questions. Would European countries send their delegates to an Israeli Eurovision in Jerusalem? Would the show's many gay fans feel welcome in the conservative city? In the end, the show was in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian activists called for a boycott of Eurovision. During the show, Palestinian artists played an alternative concert streamed online.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINE")

BASHAR MURAD: (Singing) Imagine there's no checkpoints.

ESTRIN: Palestinian Bashar Murad sang John Lennon's ballad "Imagine" but with lyrics about Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURAD: Because Eurovision is being held in Tel Aviv just a few miles away, where millions of people are living under occupation, with restricted movement, restricted freedom and lack of basic human rights.

ESTRIN: Pink Floyd's Roger Waters asked delegates to boycott Eurovision because of Israel's policies toward Palestinians. But none of the contestants boycotted. William Lee Jones (ph) runs the Eurovision fan blog Wiwibloggs.

WILLIAM LEE JONES: We need to remember this was founded after World War II, reconnecting Europe after the carnage and destruction of the Second World War. And we're in Israel with all of the connotations that that has. It's a much bigger, more complicated picture.

ESTRIN: I met fans from Australia, Norway and the U.K. who came to the beach to watch the show on large screens. Israeli Or Asher.

OR ASHER: I think it's great that a lot of people come to Israel and see it. I'd like to see Israel as, like, a fun country, a liberal country not a country where war all the time and, like, missiles and stuff like this.

ESTRIN: Madonna performed with a surprise political message. She had two dancers wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags and crossing arms.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADONNA: (Singing) Last forever...

ESTRIN: And Iceland's heavy metal band held up Palestinian flags, drawing some boos in the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HATARI: (Singing in Icelandic).

ESTRIN: After the show, I met Peter Dutcheck from Poland, in a sequined shirt, and his friend Victoria Poleykova from Bulgaria. And I asked them about the Palestinian flag-waving.

VICTORIA POLEYKOVA: I know it's a rebellious act, but Eurovision is also about that breaking boundaries and uniting people rather than excluding.

PETER DUTCHECK: I mean, I wasn't happy about it. Like, Eurovision was never meant to be a political thing, and it should never.

ESTRIN: Next year's Eurovision contest will take place in the Netherlands, which won the contest this year.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARCADE")

LAURENCE: (Singing) Oh, oh, all I know, all I know - loving you is a losing game. All I know, all I know...

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