Anti-Israel protesters demonstrated in Malmö, Skåne, Sweden on May 11 2024 during the Eurovision Song Contest. Credit: Woodan/Shutterstock.
Anti-Israel protesters demonstrated in Malmö, Skåne, Sweden on May 11 2024 during the Eurovision Song Contest. Credit: Woodan/Shutterstock.
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Many watched Eurovision for first time as ‘patriotic duty’

“We had to vote for her and show her our full support,” one non-Jewish viewer said. “To show Israel that we stand behind her.”

Sheri Tehrani watched Eurovision for the first time this year and voted twice—on the first and the final nights.

The resident of Niagara Falls, Canada, who is neither Jewish nor Israeli, saw the 2024 Eurovision as “more than just a song contest.”

“This year, because of Oct. 7, there are more ways to support Israel,” she told JNS. “Eden Golan was representing Israel and the Jewish people in a time when so many stand against them and want their annihilation.”

“Just as the pro-Palestinians came in by the bus loads to cause chaos throughout the city and try to bring Eden’s spirits down, we had to vote for her and show her our full support,” Tehrani added. “To show Israel that we stand behind her.”

Israel’s representative for the recent Eurovision Song Contest, Golan, 20, was not only a performer or singer to many but also an emblem of resilience, mettle and courage. That was particularly the case given the harsh antisemitism that she faced in Malmö, Sweden, last week at the event, which drew some 12,000 anti-Israel protesters, including environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Critics threatened a boycott, and a hostile, pro-Hamas group confined the Israeli singer to her hotel. Golan, who was protected by Israeli security teams and, at one point, by a convoy of some 100 Swedish police officers and by a police helicopter. She still managed to place fifth in the jury vote and was runner-up in the public vote in the contest in which Israel has participated since 1973 and which it has won four times.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Tehrani, who works in the fraud department at a bank, said of the jeers that Golan faced.

“Watching her get booed just for being Jewish and Israeli made me so sad,” she told JNS. “Eden represents the right for the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. She represents 3,000 years of history. She represents the right to a homeland.”

Golan’s song “Hurricane” gave “a voice to those held hostage and those who have friends and families who are still held hostage,” Tehrani said. “It gave a voice to a nation rising from a brutal attack.”

‘We’re fighting for our survival’

Gaby Pell, who made aliyah 15 years ago from London and who works in high tech on a medical device that treats depression, has been a Eurovision devotee since Israel first won in 1978.

Watching this year was not only muscle memory for him, but also a patriotic duty.

“Israel sending a contestant and singing in front of a booing crowd—I think anyone who had any ounce of support for Israel would have been rooting for her, and I was definitely one of those,” Pell told JNS.

Golan “really represented the Israeli spirit at the moment, which is sort of like a middle finger to the world,” he added. “We were going through a situation that no one can really understand, and we’re fighting for our survival.”

Eden Golan
Eden Golan, Israel’s participant in the Eurovision competition, arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, May 12, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

“Without exaggerating what this is, this is Israel. We feel part of an existential battle here,” Pell said.

Under pressure from the European Broadcasting Union, Golan had to change the title and lyrics to her song “October Rain,” because the union deemed the words “too political.” Instead, she sang the newly-dubbed “Hurricane.”

The union originally developed the Eurovision Song Contest, which debuted on May 24, 1956. Seven countries took part in that first experiment in live television broadcasting: Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Italy. 

Nearly 70 years later, some 40 countries participate in the annual contest, whose location changes based on the prior year’s winner.

Participants must be active members of the union, which spreads into the Near East, northern Africa and Australia. Despite political tensions between nations, Eurovision maintains that it is apolitical—a posture that has been nearly impossible to maintain in recent years.

It has fined Armenia and Azerbaijan many times for failing to keep their politics at home, and although Ukrainian and Russian participants often got along well, the reality of geopolitics often got in the way, as when Russia was barred from the 2022 competition due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Israel began participating regularly in 1973, when its singer Ilanit (Hanna Dresner-Tzakh) placed fourth. Five years later, Israel won behind performances of “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” by Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta, and the Jewish state did so again in 1979, with “Hallelujah” by Milk and Honey.

Many broadcasters in Arab countries cut the feed before voting could finish, and many eligible Arab countries opted not to compete in Eurovision due to Israel’s presence.

Morocco was the only Arab country to participate in 1980 when Israel skipped the competition held on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims. (That year marked the only time that a winner of the previous year’s Eurovision didn’t compete the following year.)

Israel won again in 1998 with “Diva” by Dana International and again in 2018 with “Toy” by Netta. The following year, there were calls to boycott the event when it was held in Tel Aviv. The calls to remove Israel from the competition this year have been the most vocal and dramatic since Israel began competing.

‘Song of empowerment’

Ilanna Mandel of Toronto had never watched the competition before this year. She chose to vote as well.

The app developer, who owns Mandel Creative and ReadyBe, believes “deeply and passionately in supporting the State of Israel,” she told JNS. She added that she was “appalled by the surge in hate and open cruelty.”

“This isn’t something I expected to see in my lifetime,” she told JNS.

“Hurricane” came off to her “like a song of empowerment—individual and collective,” Mandel said. “I also hear sadness in the song. Sadness for those who were murdered and taken away from us.”

There is also optimism to the music, she believes. 

“The notion of being like a hurricane is both powerful and positive. Hurricanes are a huge force of natural energy, and this is what we all must be now,” she said.

Golan “demonstrates what we all must do—stand up to the hate, hold our heads high and continue to be proud Jews and Zionists,” she added. To her, Golan epitomized the “importance of being exceptional in the moment.”

“Eden represents the best of what Israel is and can be,” she said.

Pell, the Londonite who made aliyah, had a similar reaction.

“Standing up there in front of the booing crowds really represented what everyone is feeling in terms of how we are perceived in the world,” he told JNS. “More importantly, how she reacted to that, I think made me feel extremely proud. And I think everyone in Israel. It gave an enormous injection of pride.”

Pell noted that Bambie Thug, the first non-binary artist to represent Ireland in the contest, made it known that Israel was no friend.

“Of course, we’re caught up in this torrent, this hurricane of anti-Israel, pro-woke, left-leaning, activism against Israel, and the irony in this is pretty obvious—that the gay community would not survive very well in the Middle East,” Pell told JNS.

He added that Thug’s message of “dark, demonic, hate, anti-love” couldn’t contrast more with that of Golan. And that the Irish singer placed behind Israel in sixth place.

“There is karma,” Pell said.

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