Netherlands' Duncan Laurence Wins Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv

Madonna performs two songs at Tel Aviv Eurovision ■ Israeli police set up security cordons to prevent attacks or protests

Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands celebrates after winning the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 18, 2019.
AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

 >> Madonna surprises Eurovision with Palestinian flag on dancer's back

The Netherlands' Duncan Laurence beat out 25 other performers to win the Grand Final of the 64th Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv. Israel's Kobi Marimi came in 23rd place.

Eurovision Song Contest final in Tel Aviv.

The 41-country singing competition featured a guest appearance by Madonna, who caused some controversy when two backing dancers briefly appeared on stage wearing costumes emblazoned with the Israeli and Palestinians flags. Iceland's contestants also displayed small Palestinian banners during the voting. 

Israel earned the right to host the show after Netta Barzilai won last year with her spunky pop anthem "Toy."

Eurovision 2019: The Dutch song in the second semi-final, May 16, 2019.

International icon Madonna performed two songs in the final: Her 1989 hit "Like a Prayer" and an exclusive new single, "Future," with American rapper Quavo. She punctuated her performance with an unexpected political statement when two of her dancers turned their backs – one had a Palestinian flag pinned to their back, the other featured an Israeli flag. 

The Netherlands was tapped as an early front-runner for Laurence's doleful piano ballad "Arcade." Other favorites included Switzerland's energetic "She Got Me," sung by Luca Hänni, Sweden's soulful "Too Late for Love," sung by John Lundvik, and Australia's breathy act, "Zero Gravity," by Kate Miller-Heidke.

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On Friday, the national juries from the 41 participating countries cast their vote in the Jury Final. Their vote counts for 50% of final results, while the rest will be determined by audience voting, which will begin as soon as the last contestant has performed. 

Netta Barzilai opening the Eurovision's first semi-final in Tel Aviv with 'Toy.'

Jury votes will be first to be counted, with each country awarding 1-8, 10, and 12 points. Next, each country's televoting points will be revealed, with the winner expected to be announced at 2:00 A.M. Israel time. 

Pro-Palestinian protests

As singers made last-minute preparations for the contest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Israeli police threw a high-security cordon around the venue to head off attacks, or protests by boycotters who have urged fans to shun the event. 

Armed police stood at elevated positions around the Expo Tel Aviv complex, with patrol cars and police motorcyclists at junctions as fans passed through metal detectors and multiple security checks. Farther south, near Jaffa, an area of beach was sealed off for the "Eurovision Village" spectators pavilion. 

The 41-country international singing competition has been a focus of pro-Palestinian calls to stay away from this year's event, in protest against Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza. 

No finalists or broadcasters have pulled out, but the organisers also have security inside the hall in case activists try to disrupt the live televised final on Saturday night or performers hold an on-stage protest. 

Israel says the calls to boycott the competition because it is being held in Israel are discriminatory and anti-Semitic, which the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement denies. 

On Wednesday, Madonna explained her decision to perform at the contest despite calls for boycott, saying she will speak up to defend human rights and hopes to see "a new path toward peace."

Eyes will also be on Hatari, Iceland's leather-clad techno-punk duo who said that Israel's "political reality is conflicting and absurd" and its "apartheid is clear." The band, whose song "Hate Will Prevail" won Reykjavik's pre-Eurovision competition, had been politically outspoken about their participation in the song contest. They initially said Iceland shouldn't perform in the contest in Israel, but said that since it already is, the band would come with the declared intention to protest Israeli policy.In an event organised by pro-Palestinian activists on Saturday morning, around 60 people boarded a boat in Jaffa port to hear critics voicing opposition to Israel's staging of the competition. 

Eurovision in Tel Aviv targeted by protests

At an event organised by pro-Palestinian activists on Saturday morning, around 60 people boarded a boat in Jaffa port to hear critics voicing opposition to Israel's staging of the competition. 

The event was organised by Zochrot, an Israeli NGO which advocates for Palestinians to have the right to return to lands that they fled or were driven from during the 1948-49 war that surrounded Israel's founding. Israel rules out any such right. 

Umar al-Ghubari, the tour guide, said that Eurovision fans were due to celebrate near where the pre-1948 Palestinian neighborhood al-Manshiyya was destroyed 71 years ago. 

"The Israelis don't want to tell this story. They want to show everything as normal," said Ghubari. 

But Israelis enjoying their weekend in Tel Aviv said they were proud to be hosting the event. "I'm very excited, it's great that it's come to Tel Aviv," said Alan Liferow, 58, an Israeli accountant from Ein Sarid. "It's showing Israel in a very positive light." 

Yafa Levy, 61, from Ramat Hasharon, said most people did not care about the boycott. "With all that is happening against Eurovision and Israel, the show goes on," she said. 

There were fears for the event in early May, when Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militants engaged in three days of fighting, including hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza and Israeli air strikes into the Palestinian enclave. 

Israel had extensively deployed its Iron Dome aerial defence system in advance of the contest.