As she and guest star Quavo sang the lyrics “Not everyone is coming to the future / Not everyone is learning from the past”, a pair of her dancers – one wearing a costume bearing a Palestinian flag, another with an Israeli flag – embraced as they climbed a set of stairs at the climax of the performance.
Earlier, in an interstitial portion of the performance between the songs Like a Prayer and Future, she spoke to figures wearing gas masks, asking:
They are so naive – they think we are not aware of their crimes. We know, but we’re just not ready to act. The storm isn’t in the air, it’s inside of us. I want to tell you about love and loneliness. But it’s getting late now. Can’t you hear outside of your Supreme hoodie, the wind that’s beginning to howl?
The Tel Aviv performance ended with Madonna whispering the words “wake up”, also printed on a big screen behind her, as she and Quavo collapsed backwards from the stage. The BBC commentator Graham Norton said that there was a “slightly muted response to Madonna in the hall” following the performance.
It is unlikely that organisers were aware of the political aspects of Madonna’s performance as she rehearsed it behind closed doors.
Cultural figures including Rogers Waters and Brian Eno have vociferously opposed the staging of Eurovision in Israel, claiming that the country has violated human rights in the Palestinian territories. Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie described Madonna as a “prostitute” for playing at the ceremony.
Madonna made reference to the political tensions in a statement earlier this week, saying: “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. My heart breaks every time I hear about the innocent lives that are lost in this region and the violence that is so often perpetuated to suit the political goals of people who benefit from this ancient conflict. I hope and pray that we will soon break free from this terrible cycle of destruction and create a new path towards peace.”
Her performance of Like a Prayer, accompanied by a monastic choir, was poorly received, with fans online accusing her of being out of tune.
Icelandic performers Hatari later showed support for Palestine, holding up Palestinian flags as their points scores were read out.