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Glitz, Glamour and Grandstanding

Here in Canada, one can only watch the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv in two ways. The first is late at night on Omnitv (all legal online streams are blocked), and via the news stories that shine light into Israel behind the stage.

Israel has long been a mainstay of the European Broadcasting Union’s Eurovision Song Contest, winning four times – most recently with a timely and talented feminist anthem, Toy, performed by Netta Barzilai.  (Famously parodied by Cantor Maissner in this year’s Purim video).  This year Israel will be represented by Kobi Marimi, singing – again in English – the song “Home.

There are several narratives surrounding this year’s contest that we should be aware of and begin to sort through.

Some are ‘surface level’ and others give a challenging insight into the struggles of our Jewish state – both on the domestic and international level.  One might remember that Netta announced the contest for Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem. The contest is being held in Tel Aviv. An Irish band felt pressure not to compete (but decided to compete in the end) and ostensibly Madonna’s contract isn’t yet signed (though, she says, “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… I hope and pray that we will soon break free from this terrible cycle of destruction and create a new path towards peace”). Both of these are the kind of conflict one can expect surrounding Israel.

But deeper lie existential issues about the nature of Israel as a Jewish State. Internally, Netanyahu and others are facing pressure because the contest finals are on Shabbat (but don’t worry – he says – many of the workers are not Jewish). This is reflected in the uproar over this video, which many find less cheeky and more tasteless. There is much to unpack in the video, including a celebration of shops open on Shabbat.

One of the most interesting collections of scenes starts at 1:22. It begins with some questionable lyrics, but the overall purpose seems to be emphasising the ‘normalcy’ of life in the Jewish State – buying train tickets, getting robbed on a subway platform, and someone helping a stranger with a bag and ending in an implied terrible car accident – all aspects of a normal country. I wonder if this is supposed to be a warning to visitors that while they may be expecting a Holy Land, as they step off the plane into a mass of humanity which only occasionally strives towards holiness.

And of course, if you look closely at the male lead’s shirt towards the end of the video, you’ll see a reference to the Iron Dome.

During the live-streamed broadcast last night in Israel, for a few domestic viewers, the stream showed a two-minute warning, ostensibly from the IDF, that the concert venue and a blast radius around it were to be evacuated immediately.

The WhatsApp hack, the missile threats all point to the existential threats to Israel’s existence which are constantly underlying this conversation. The glitter and glamour do mask the conversations around the settlements, the recently avoided (or paused) war in Gaza, and the growing military concerns around Iran.

So while we enjoy the contest – and I hope you do tune in to see how the voting goes (oddly, Iceland’s “Hatrið mun sigra” – “Hate will prevail” – is a front-runner) let us also pay attention to and learn from the rifts it creates, and the ripples that spread amongst the falling glitter. I know Israel will make us proud as it hosts this contest, and we all should be eager for this insight into the politics in front of and behind the stage.

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