Palestinian flags at Eurovision irks Israel minister

This handout photo released by KAN shows two of Madonna's dancers (foreground) side-by-side with Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs during her performance in an apparent call for unity. Madonna and US rapper Quavo performed during a guest appearance at the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 at Expo Tel Aviv on May 19, 2019, in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP / KAN / Orit Pnini)
Updated 20 May 2019
0

Palestinian flags at Eurovision irks Israel minister

  • Madonna resisted calls from pro-Palestinian activists to boycott the event over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory
  • Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and it remains under occupation today

JERUSALEM: Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev on Sunday criticized the display of Palestinian flags during the Eurovision song contest finals in Tel Aviv, including by one of Madonna’s dancers.
“It was an error,” Regev, a right-wing minister known for provocative stances, told journalists before a cabinet meeting.
“Politics and a cultural event should not be mixed, with all due respect to Madonna.”
Regev criticized Israeli public broadcaster KAN for not having prevented the flags from being shown, though it was unclear what could have been done.
During Madonna’s performance at the Eurovision extravaganza, which began Saturday night and stretched into Sunday morning, two of her dancers could be seen side-by-side with Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs.
The gesture was an apparent call for unity, but Eurovision organizers seek to keep all politics out of the event and the display of Palestinian flags inside Israel is deeply controversial.
Madonna had not commented on the flags.
Separately, Icelandic group Hatari displayed scarfs with Palestinian flags when results were being announced.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, condemned both displays.
Referring to Madonna’s dancers, it said “this element of the performance was not part of the rehearsals.”
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna had been made aware of this.”
Madonna resisted calls from pro-Palestinian activists to boycott the event over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
In a statement before the finals, Madonna said: “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.”
Regev also criticized KAN for not having filmed any of its “postcards” of participating singers in the occupied West Bank.
Each singer was filmed in scenic areas of Israel and some of the footage was aired during the show.
Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and it remains under occupation today.
Israeli settlements there are viewed as illegal under international law and are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Israel won the right to host Eurovision thanks to last year’s victory by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai.
The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence won this year’s Eurovision with his power ballad “Arcade.”


Lebanese army veterans block highways to protest budget cuts

Updated 25 min ago
0

Lebanese army veterans block highways to protest budget cuts

  • The cabinet finalized the state budget last month
  • The draft budget includes a 3% cut in army veterans’ pensions

BEIRUT: Hundreds of retired army officers burned tires blocking main highways into Lebanon’s capital on Thursday to protest cuts to their benefits as part of the 2019 draft budget.
Lawmakers are debating the state budget in parliament this week after cabinet finalized it last month, a critical test of the government’s will to launch reforms it has put off for years and start tackling the nation’s huge debt burden.
The protests point to the land mine the government faces in trying to push spending cuts, even after Lebanon’s key parties agreed the budget in a bid to stave off financial crisis.
Fears of salary and pension cuts sparked protests and strikes in recent months, but the budget did not end up including cuts to the public sector wage bill.
Lebanese veterans burned tires, sparking fires along the highway in Naameh, south of Beirut, early on Thursday.
The road was blocked for a few hours before the army arrived to partly open it up. Long lines of cars waited on either side of the main artery into the capital.
The veterans carried photos of killed army officers, whose families will also be affected by the new cuts.
“There will be closures in all of Lebanon ... The political class pushed us to this stage,” said Abbas Ammar, a first sergeant who retired in 2001. “All our lives we preserved the security of our country. These are our rights that we earned.”
The draft budget includes a 3% cut in their pensions to go to supporting health care and social services, a pension tax and a freeze on early retirement.
Lebanon has among the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at around 150% of gross domestic product (GDP). State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt servicing costs and hefty subsidies on the power sector.
The main steps to cut the projected deficit to 7.6% GDP include a tax on interest, an import tax and the government’s plan to issue low-interest treasury bonds.