The week that was Eurovision in Israel
By David E. Kaplan
Shifting from the salon sofa and watching the buildup to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition on TV to actually immersing oneself in the swelling crowds at the Eurovillage in Tel Aviv’s beach front was an eye-popping opener or as one says in Hebrew:
“Ein milim” – “no words”.
For a press that usually obsesses with covering Israel in a negative light, what a refreshing change:
Britain’s The Independent ran with a headline reading:
“This year’s Eurovision was one of the best in recent memory,” praising the broadcasts “general splendor” and calling it “an incredible show.”
CNN called the grand final “a showpiece that would have disappointed few Eurovision fans.”
The New York Times, which only recently published a vile antisemitic cartoon anchored on Israeli politics, said the show had “enough glitz, plumes of fire and special effects to invigorate even the blandest Europop.”
Even the BBC was captivated by the special atmosphere. Its newsreader Graham Norton during his live commentary said of the 2019 rendition of Israel’s 40th anniversary of “Hallelujah” by Gali Atari accompanied by previous top Eurovision contestants – Conchita Wurst, Måns Zelmerlöw, Eleni Foureira and Verka Serduchka:
“What a real treat for Eurovision fans… a really special moment. A gorgeous moment.”
The BBC was spot on – it was a “gorgeous moment”. However, the entire week was a compilation of “gorgeous moments.”
Off course, there were still those who could not resist ‘aiming’ their pens in describing Eurovision in Israel as “Tel Aviv caught between partying and politics” but so be it:
The event lived up to its expectations; the theme of Israel’s Eurovision was “Dare To Dream”, a theme espoused by Israel’s founding father Theodore Hertzel, who defied the naysayers over 120 years earlier with “If you will it, it is no dream.”
The results were there for all to celebrate as the eyes of the world – some 200 million viewers – were on Israel and seeing:
How you can build a country in 71 years and that despite the immense challenges, despite being surrounded by enemies desiring our extinction, despite a biased global media in perpetual assault mode against the Jewish state, saw the curtain rise on a modern, fun-loving, exciting, enterprising, entrepreneurial and hi-tech behemoth that can also show the world:
‘How to party’
And party Israel did.
Tel Aviv lived up to its reputation of the “City That never Sleeps” or as I like to describe it, “as the city that wakes up every morning and decides what’s its going to be”.
Yes, the people of the “Start-Up Nation” know how to “work hard” but they also know how to “play hard” and the multitude of visitors from abroad were swept away by the euphoric atmosphere.
Three Swiss visitors I spoke to, agreed, “The atmosphere here is special; you will never see anything like this in Switzerland – Eurovision or no Eurovision”
A twentysomething from Germany remarked, “It’s funny; I’ve been here a week and even with the time change, Europe is fast asleep when you guys are still partying.”
Euphoria in Eurovillage
The lingua franca of the people standing around me near the main stage at the Eurovillage was a cross of European languages and many of them were holding aloft their country’s flags. Facing me were the flags of Romania, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. Looking back, all I could see was a sea of people, gyrating to the music of an Abba Revival band from Sweden. The four singers down to their dress looked like Abba and if you closed your eyes, you could be back in the seventies – they sounded exactly like Abba.
Most the people around me were probably not even born when Abba won with Waterloo in 1974, but tonight was Tel Aviv’s “Waterloo” as it won in victoriously emblazoning to the world, if you want to know us, come and see Israel for yourself.
Clearly, the thousands of overseas visitors were happy they did.
BDS failed abysmally in sabotaging the event. Despite their appeals for countries to boycott – notably by their flagbearer, Roger Waters – not one European country pulled out. Noted for flying a balloon of a giant pig with a Star of David at his concerts and then denying “I’m NOT an anti-Semite”, Ranting Roger made a last ditch-11th hour incoherent rant on social media following an appeal “from my friend Omar Barghouti” for contestants to boycott Tel Aviv. A co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Barghouti does not believe in a two-state solution as he believes that the “creation of a Jewish state was a crime” and calls to restore the name of “Palestine” for the entire area from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.
Waters’ appeal met on deaf ears.
Where once people listed to his music, today, few were interested in hearing what he had to say.
Even the pro-Palestinian Icelandic ‘Hatari’ participated albeit displaying Palestinian flags. They received no thanks for doing so!
The Iceland band’s gesture cut no ice with BDS who wrote on its Twitter account:
“Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line.”
At a press conference, Hatari offered a purely positive message saying, “We need to unite and remember to love – hate on the rise in Europe.”
Yes, that hate is manifesting itself in the worst outbreak of antisemitism in Europe since WWII.
And happy to join that hate fest are Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
During the week leading up to the final of the Eurovision, Fatah and the PA campaigned vigorously and visually for countries to boycott Tel Aviv as reflected in its cartoons published daily linking Israeli music to violence – including the visual depiction of the common PA libel that “Israel intentionally kills civilians”.
Fatah posted the cartoon below on Facebook, showing an Israeli soldier shooting at Palestinians in Gaza. Musical notes are flowing from the “Eurovision” but turn into an ammunition belt for the soldier’s machine gun.
In a second cartoon posted by Fatah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dressed up as Israeli singer Netta Barzilai who won last year’s Eurovision and brought the competition to Israel. Netanyahu is holding a missile in each hand:
Missiles? What the PA and Fatah neglects to advise its gullible readership is that it was the Palestinians in Gaza that only two weeks earlier had launched nearly 700 missiles at southern Israel, killing four Israeli civilians, injuring many and causing severe structural damage to property, including moving motor vehicles.
Never Stop Dreaming
Israel’s message to the world was so poignantly encapsulated by the Shalva Band. Shalva (The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities) is a registered non-profit organization that supports and empowers individuals with disabilities and their families in Israel. The eight-piece band, which includes Israelis with blindness, Down syndrome and other physical and developmental disabilities, called on spectators “to never stop dreaming.” The band performed a rendition of A Million Dreams from the film The Greatest Showman.
The band made it to the finals of The Rising Star, the local Israeli contest that determines who represents the country at the Eurovision. Predicted to win by judges and audience members, they dropped out because performing at Eurovision would have necessitated violating the Sabbath in order to participate in the Saturday night final broadcast.
At a press conference they revealed that they were living out their dream.
“When we first started playing together people wouldn’t listen to us, they would just leave the room,” said Band director Shai Ben-Shushan. “We worked hard, and we became better and better, and we believed in ourselves. After a lot of hard work, we got to Hakochav Haba (The Rising Star) – and in the beginning we didn’t believe that we were good enough to make it to the end.”
The Israeli public thought they did.
“We’ve made a huge change in Israeli society,” he said. “Today, when we walk in the street, the Israeli people want to embrace us – not because we’re a gimmick, but because we’re good at what we do.”
If only the PA, Hamas and BDS would understand this message
Wonder Woman On Wonder City
A quick lesson in “three minutes” about life in Tel Aviv was revealed in the back of a taxi by Gal Gadot, Israel’s famed star from Wonder Woman with taxi driver, famed Israeli comedian Yuval Semo.
“Three minutes,” says the Hollywood superstar it took for Netta Barzilai in 2018 to bring the Eurovision to Israel with her winning entry “Toy”; “three minutes,’ she joked, “is the average an Israeli waits before getting personal – a little too personal,” and “Three minutes to understand the essence of Tel Aviv – Inspiration, innovation, big ideas and open arms. Come as you are, bring who you like, love what you do, day or night, daring and caring, outgoing and including everyone under one hot sun.”
At the end of the week – All Said And Sung – the real winner of Eurovision 2019 was – ISRAEL!
As Israel’s message in its 1979 Eurovision win: “Hallelujah”