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What awaits the delegation to the most charged Eurovision in Israeli history?

Although organizers try to keep the competition apolitical, it cannot help but be affected by global events.

Eden Golan. Credit: Shai Franco/Keshet.
Eden Golan. Credit: Shai Franco/Keshet.
Nir Wolf

For as long as it has existed, Eurovision has been both a prestigious song contest and a reflection of the global political environment. Although its slogan is “United by Music,” the competition is hardly politically neutral, having most recently banned Russia from participating following its invasion of Ukraine.

In 2022, Ukraine was chosen winner not because its song was particularly memorable, but due to the war that was brought to its doorstep. In 2023 too, the stage in Liverpool, which hosted the Eurovision for war-torn Kyiv, was filled with yellow and blue flags in a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine.

So how does Eurovision reconcile this contradiction? On the one hand, it insists that it is not a political event, on the other, it seems to be most political. So much so that some years, the winner can be predicted ahead of time. Such as again Ukraine in 2016 with Jamala’s “1944,” which evoked the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Josef Stalin and had been interpreted as a criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Analysis of voting patterns shows that some friendly countries consistently give each other a higher score. There are usually neighboring countries, with linguistic, ethnic, cultural, historical, and geographical ties, such as Greece and Cyprus, Britain and Ireland, Sweden and Finland. In fact, until 2016 even Russia and Ukraine made sure to give each other high scores.

In 2024, Russia is a leper, certainly in the eyes of Eurovision fans due to its war in Ukraine, discriminatory policies against its LGBTQ community, and nearly non-existent free speech in the press.

Israel, unfortunately, is not doing much better. One can blame propaganda and antisemitism, but the reality is that until the Eurovision contest, to be held in May, demonstrations are expected to be held to boycott it. As such, Israel’s representative this year, Eden Golan, is facing a bigger challenge than any of her predecessors. Interestingly, Golan has a connection to Russia as well. In 2015, she competed to represent Russia at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. One wonders whether this too could affect Golan’s performance in Sweden.

Following last year’s victory by Sweden’s Loreen, with her pop song “Tattoo,” the competition will be held in the country’s third-largest city, Malmö, between May 7 and 11. The port city lies on the Baltic Sea and is known for its large number of immigrants. Over 25% of its residents are Muslim, many of whom are pro-Palestinian.

The Eurovision was last held in Malmö in 2013 when Moran Mazor represented Israel. She was eliminated in the semi-finals at a time that was also sensitive; barely half a year had passed after Operation Pillar of Defense.

Alon Amir, spokesman of the Israeli delegation at the time, recalled, “The situation was very tense. We went to Malmö with six Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] agents and another 30 local police were with us at all times. We couldn’t leave the hotel alone.

“This year it is not unreasonable to assume that the Israeli delegation will not be allowed to leave the hotel at all, except for rehearsals and official events. The security will be very heavy—like we had in 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan. There was a real fear of Iranian terrorists carrying out attacks during the competition.”

The security team made sure to shepherd Izabo, the group that represented Israel in 2012, wherever needed. In retrospect, their caution was warranted as it turned out that the local police arrested nearly 40 Iranian terrorists and managed to thwart a series of planned attacks.

In preparation for this year’s trip, members of the Israeli delegation are formulating an action plan. The Shin Bet is in close contact with the Kan News Broadcasting Corporation regarding all security arrangements, and it is clear that this time the task is more complicated than ever.

Eden Golan
Eden Golan performs on “The Next Star to Eurovision,” Nov. 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.

If last year several demonstrators were waving Palestinian flags outside the concert hall in Liverpool, and Noa Kirel’s entourage included four Shin Bet agents and two local police officers, this time dozens of security guards are expected to join.

It has already been decided that the delegation will not participate in the various parties and events that will be held in the city. In addition, Golan will also not attend the red carpet (which is actually turquoise) event, not only for security reasons but because the event will coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Avi Zeikner, the editor of the Hebrew-language website about Eurovision, euromix.com, who intends to fly to Sweden to cover the event as he does every year, said: “Quite a few Israelis want to go to Malmö this year. Due to the security concerns, most of them do not plan to stay in the city, but to stay in Copenhagen and travel to Malmö for the main events. It takes an hour and a half by train.

“This year, many mass demonstrations against Israel are expected. Another concern is that Golan might be booed when she takes the stage. It’s happened in the past, such as with Russia, so that too could be an unpleasant moment.”

As for Palestinian flags, they aren’t allowed in the Eurovision arena, just as the flags of ISIS, the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Kosovo. Anyone caught waving one of these flags is immediately escorted out of the building. However, there are no guarantees that such an incident won’t happen. In 2019, when Israel was hosting the Eurovision, members of Iceland’s Hatari band raised the Palestinian flag during the live televoting sequence and were fined.

In the meantime, in order not to add more fuel to the fire, the Foreign Ministry has requested to maintain a low media profile and even ordered the Israeli ambassador to Sweden not to be interviewed in connection with the competition. “Being engaged in this only increases the banter surrounding the event,” they said.

Immediately after Golan’s victory in the Israel Eurovision selection contest, full artistic and procedural responsibility was transferred to the Kan broadcaster. At the beginning of next week, the professional committee will meet to select the song. The song that will be chosen will be revealed in a festive Kan broadcast on March 11.

“You can’t sing about everything. Certain messages cannot be delivered on the Eurovision stage. On the other hand, in 2016, the Ukrainians managed to enter into the competition a song that alluded to the expulsion of the Tatar population from the Crimean Peninsula by the Soviet regime. The Russians did try to disqualify the song, but the EBU claimed that the Ukrainian song talks about an event from 1944, and it is allowed to sing about past events,” Zeikner explained.

“When Israel’s Ofra Haza sang ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ in the Eurovision in Germany and the attendants wore yellow (a reference to the Holocaust), it was also political, but that was fine. There are messages that are allowed, and there are messages that are not,” he said.

“For example, after Operation Cast Lead, we sent Ahinoam Nini and Mira Awad with ‘There Must be Another Way’, which is definitely a political song, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not mentioned in the lyrics, and they did a great service to the State of Israel. On the other hand, they only reached 16th place. Even Teapacks, who sang about the Iranian bomb, or the PingPong band, who sang about peace with Syria, failed to interest the world with their political messages,” he noted.

Israeli media reported on Wednesday that Israel’s first song pick for Eurovision, titled “October Rain,” was rejected by the European Broadcasting Union. The song, referencing the Hamas onslaught on Israel on Oct. 7, in which 1,200 Israelis, including women and children, were killed by terrorists, was reportedly deemed too political. An alternative song, named “Dancing Forever,” has also reportedly been ruled out.

Depending on the message of the song that will be chosen, a lot will be placed on the shoulders of Eden Golan.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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