Israel’s Eurovision win: The good, the bad and the ugly

Israel’s Eurovision win: The good


The 2018 Eurovision song contest, perhaps the world’s most popular pop music competition, saw the Israeli entry sung by Netta Barzilai walk away the winner.

Israel has been a real powerhouse in the competition, winning 4 times (1978, 1979, 1998 and 2018). In recent years, it has also managed to go through the semi-final stage and reach the final in every competition.

In addition to an artistic success story, Israel is a pioneer with regards to providing bold and positive social messages in its Eurovision entries. The victory of transgender singer Dana International in 1998 was considered a seminal moment in the history of the LGBTQI community and the fight for their rights.

Often an arena for political point scoring between rival states (for example, notorious anti-Russian songs), Israel has also sent provocative songs to Eurovision. In 2007, the Teapacks sang “Push the button” in defiance of Iranian threats to annihilate Israel; Ofra Haza sang an emotional “Am Israel Chai” (“The people of Israel are alive”) statement when the competition was held in Germany in 1983 in a clear reference to the Holocaust. And even one the worst songs ever preformed in the history of the contest, “Happy” by Ping Pong in 2000, was a (failed) attempt to support peace between Israel and Syria (and was ground-breaking for featuring the first time a gay kiss between men was seen on the Eurovision stage).

This year’s song performed by Netta Barzilai for Israel in the Eurovision also had a timely message, though perhaps one less overly political. Instead, “Toy” is all about empowering women and building self-esteem. It’s a sophisticated, fun-filled and energetic addition to the #MeToo movement advancing women’s rights, giving a voice to people who are discriminated against or who suffer bullying.

A victory against a BDS bullying campaign

In that context, the victory by Barzilai as a person, and Israel as a country, is appropriate. Early on, Israel’s entry was being singled out as a possible contender to take first prize this year, leading the odds at the betting websites. This was the cue for a fully fledged bullying operation by anti-Israel activists. The Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement (BDS) tried to muster its supporters to mobilise behind a ‘Zero Points for Israeli apartheid’ campaign, aimed at persuading people not to vote in favour of Netta’s song in protest of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. The fact that the song was all about positivity and women’s rights was completely irrelevant. So, how should this Eurovision song entry be judged, according to the BDS movements logic?  It represents the Jewish state, hence it is ‘bad’.

Happily, this racist moral fallacy, that a work of art should be condemned based solely on the nationality of its creators, did not stick. The juries and the public of the countries participating in the Eurovision gave Netta a decisive victory. The song won wall-to-wall support from experts and viewers at home alike in virtually all countries in the competition, including in Australia.

Following Netta’s victory, Jerusalem will be hosting the Eurovision next year. For BDS, this a painful reminder that their corrupt agenda, trying to inflict racism into art, was rejected. Faced with their humiliating failure to stop Israel from winning the competition, disgruntled BDS supporters now see Eurovision 2019 in Jerusalem as a new call for action. “The Winner of Next Year’s Eurovision Song Contest Must be BDS” cries Adam Garrie, infamous for his support of violence against Israel and pro-Iran views.

So far, this latest BDS campaign is also a failure. Among the first to jump on the hate wagon were a few extreme left Irish politicians and the notorious Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mícheál Mac Donncha, calling on Ireland to boycott the Eurovision 2019 because it is in Israel. Mac Donncha slipped into the Palestinian Authority through Israel in April and participated in a conference with banners supporting pro-Nazi Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al-Husseini. Yet the Irish media is ignoring Mac Donncha and is already engaged is speculating about Ireland’s possible entry for Eurovision 2019.

BDS operatives in Iceland tried to muster support for a petition calling on their country not send a delegation to Israel for next year’s Eurovision. Some small extreme left-wing pro-Palestinian party activists in the UK and Sweden have called for the boycotting Eurovision in Israel. These calls are being ignored and the participation of both countries in next year’s competition is assured.

Classic antisemitism raises its ugly head again

Yet despite the abject failure of the BDS efforts against Netta and “Toy”, like any Israel-related story, Eurovision 2018 was bait for professional antisemites that infest too much of social media. Fans of the song competition congratulated Netta for her win, while others expressed their distaste for her song.

A considerable amount of the online comments following the competition soon became political. Israel was fiercely attacked (and defended by its supporters), defined as “a terror state”, shooting Palestinians “in the head”  as well as less subtle language. In some cases, the disputes quickly deteriorated to antisemitism. Moderators of Eurovision fan-designated online groups worked very hard on deleting such comments. Yet, some slipped through the cracks. For example, referring to the classic antisemitic trope of Jewish greed, a spiteful European responded to an Israeli fan on the Eurovision website, “if you want a bicycle and you don’t want to pay for it, my Jewish friend, don’t steal it from an 8-year-old child. Come to me. I ‘ll give you your damn shekels [Israeli money]”.  “The Jews have won” said another fan (and had his comment removed), as if the song had a religious flavour to it.

Meanwhile, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung issued an apology after publishing a hateful cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nettanyahu dressed as Netta, holding up a rocket marked with a Star of David, while a Star of David replaces the V in the word “Eurovision”.

Palestinian caricaturist Mohammad Sabaaneh went a step further by depicting Netta as dancing on the security wall between Israel the Palestinians, with blood coming out of her mouth, wearing army boots and holding a grenade instead of a mic. The caricature is yet another piece in a long line showcasing the popularity of Nazi-themed  propaganda imagery among the Palestinians.

The aim of coordinated campaigns against Israel against the backdrop of Netta’s success story at the Eurovision was clear – to spread hate, stifle debate and discussion and promote violence. To do so required politicising art and masking and decontextualizing the humanistic message in it. This is the essence of bullying: reducing your target to a caricature, removing their humanity so they become a pure target for hate and violence. “Toy” is all about rejecting bullying, its success is proof that bullying is a failed and invalid tactic, whether against individuals or countries.

As leading Prof. of English literature, Anthony M. Esolen, said: “If you had to choose between art and the slogan, or between history and the slogan, you might as well choose the slogan and have done with pretending even to care about art and history. The reduction of all things to politics must reduce them, in their own right, to irrelevance.”