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At this year’s Eurovision, it was really Israel up on stage

The Jewish state showed the world how strong, organized and secure it is—and what it’s capable of in terms of unconventionality and vitality.

Gali Atari, who won the Eurovision contest in 1979, performs during a rehearsal ahead of the Grand Finals of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv on May 17, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Gali Atari, who won the Eurovision contest in 1979, performs during a rehearsal ahead of the Grand Finals of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv on May 17, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Fiamma Nirenstein

The Eurovision Song Contest may be over for this year, but as the stage in Tel Aviv’s International Convention Center is dismantled the event’s true significance is only becoming clearer.

The entire world knows how it went: A television audience of 200 million was watching when the voting stopped at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, and journalists from across the globe were on hand for the results. The Netherlands won, Italy—and we’re very glad about this—came in second. Kobi Marimi, a nice 27-year-old tenor from Ramat Gan, who represented Israel in the final, ended up in 23rd place.

But as often happens in Israel, the event became a symbol, in the case of Eurovision a symbol of Israel’s passionate desire for normality.

To understand its moral relevance, one must watch the video on YouTube (a political encyclopedia and the true basic text of global psychoanalysis) in which an elderly Roger Waters of the legendary rock band Pink Floyd, a self-professed anti-Semite, goes on a two-minute rant, half-naked and disheveled, gesticulating wildly as he compares Israelis to the aliens in the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The Jews, to Waters, are monstrous “aliens.” To Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei they’re “a cancer that must be destroyed.”

Hitler expressed similar theories.

The truth is just the opposite. Israel gave us a model for how a country should be: totally commited to its own identity, and at the same time totally open to the world. While Israel was preparing the Eurovision stage, it had to defend itself from 700 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets from the Gaza Strip.

I wonder how many of the people who attended the Eurovision event or watched it on television gave a thought to the challenge of managing a massive event like this, the main task of which is to open up to the world, while simultaneously defending oneself from murderous aggression, all the while remaining committed to the great dream of peace and morality.

For Waters and the world’s many other anti-Semites, the Jewish State is and will likely remain a mystery. They simply cannot understand the nature the Jewish state’s achievements.

The Palestinian flags that appeared during Madonna’s Eurovision performance, and those held up by the Icelandic team at the contest, didn’t matter: Israel won the challenge.

It’s a pity, though, that for mere religious reasons, related to Shabbat, the Shalva Band, which had enchanted everyone, pulled out of the final. This group, comprised of eight musicians, all of whom have disabilities, from blindness to Down syndrome, is a classic and incredible example of the inclusion typical of Israel.

Israel has tens of thousands of seriously wounded citizens; therefore it integrates with patience and unparalleled love all those with disabilities or who are a little—or a lot—different.

People with special needs even serve in the Israel Defense Forces, the ultimate symbol of the inclusion of the Ingathering of the Exiles. Israel displays its determination to stay human and open when it admits all those in need of medical care at its hospitals, including its enemies.

Israel has become a safe haven for LGTB individuals throughout the Middle East, and has paved a path of acceptance and tolerance: Dana International became the first transgender star in the world by winning the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel in 1998 despite the people who openly despised and mistreated her on TV and in newspapers.

Israel challenged conventional wisdom last year, too, when Netta Barzilai, who frightened many with her outlandish expressions and hen dance won the Eurovision contest with her song “I’m not your toy.”

At this year’s Eurovision it was Israel that was really on stage, showing the world how strong, organized and secure it is—and also what it is capable of in terms of unconventionality and vitality.

This nation state—scandal!—continually at war as it has no choice but to defend itself—double scandal!—is full of love. This isn’t something that came about in a day—it took 3,000 years of Jewish history, in which monotheism was transformed into moral compass, and that moral compass into democracy, and democracy, finally, into the sense of pride and joy of those who have returned home.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Translated by Amy Rosenthal.

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