So Madonna did come, and her performance was one of the highlights of the 4 hour grand finale of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest.As she said, music brings the people of the world together. And to demonstrate her commitment to peace and coexistence, she arranged for two of her backup dancers to have an Israeli and a Palestinian flag on their costumes, and to embrace each other. This reminded me of her appearance a few years ago at the Ramat Gan national soccer stadium, when she gave out 300 free tickets to an equal number of young Israelis and Palestinians from the Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGO Forum. Her statement during the intermission of that performance, “If you’re not a fan of peace, you can’t be a fan of Madonna” still echoes strongly today.
“The whole world is watching” was the slogan back in the 60’s demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Well maybe not the whole world – however 200 million people is quite an audience – even if you leave the Americans who do not suffer from Eurovision fever out of the calculation, . And there’s no question that Israeli Public TV “Kan”, Channel 11, the station which Netanyahu is trying to close because it demonstrates too much independence, did a superb job of organizing the festivities, the two semi-finals and the final.
How do I sum it all up? First of all music really can bring people together, cross borders, and create an atmosphere of multi-cultural live and live openness and tolerance.
An Occupation-Free Reality
And to think, we went through a whole week without anti-Culture Minister Miri Regev appearing even a single time, and Bibi and Sarah were also nowhere to be seen. What a relief, even if this doesn’t change the results of the elections. This was first and foremost a liberal Tel Aviv celebration, and Mayor Ron Huldai and his associates fully understood and backed the Eurovision project. And it was hard not to notice that in all the colorful Israeli location video postcards that accompanied the presentation of the performers from all the delegations, images from the Occupied Territories were thankfully missing. It’s as if we were momentarily living in an occupation-free reality. This was obviously an acceptance of the European position that the State of Israel exists in the 1967 borders, and everything else is occupied territory. The only deviation from this was images of the Banias and Mt. Hermon on the Golan Heights, and the dancers prancing on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. However the organizers were careful not to show images of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and the Golden Dome of the Rock, even if Jerusalem is the city of Gold, since the future of Jerusalem is a final status issue.
“Spirit in the Sky”
As for the quality of the music itself, that’s debatable. Eurovision began with some of the leading European singers participating, and Israel also used to send its leading and most creative performers. It’s hard to believe that the Italian Domenico Modugno and his “Nel Blu dipinto Di Blu” (Volare) only came in 3rd in 1958. Along the way, the annual contest has become more campy, and the quality of the music more questionable. Still, I had my personal favorites:
1) The Norwegian “Spirit in the Sky”, the catchy combination of Norwegian rock and Sami traditional youk singing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50WutSRykdE
2) The Danish “Love is Forever”, a throwback to a simple, lyrical love song: https://eurovision.tv/video/leonora-love-is-forever-denmark-official-video-eurovision-2019
3) The Slovenian “Sebi”, an unusual, simple lyrical song sung by a female vocalist staring at her silent male guitar-playing partner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGtPNQ6g6Ng&list=RD2C9W7MbDivU&index=4
The Norwegian song actually won the public vote, but because of the system which provides half of the votes to “professional” juries in each of the countries, the Dutch song, which I didn’t think much of, was the winner. I also was under-impressed by the Israeli song “Home” sung by Koby Marimi, which I thought was overly sentimental.
However, the Israeli special needs band Shalva, which backed out of the competition because of the need to rehearse on Shabbat, with their moving performance of “A Million Dreams” in the intermission of the first semi-final, understandably earned a tremendous amount of praise. If it had been the Israeli song instead of “Home”, it could have been the second time that Israel would have won twice in a row. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhRewe-uEIw
The Eurovision song contest was initiated in 1956 to help promote a united Europe after the horrors of WW II. While the EU is having trouble holding together today, the aspiration for a united Europe with easily-crossed borders still exists, at least in the Eurovision world, in the spirit of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” that was quoted by Shalva’s lead singer in her introduction to their song.
There Must Be Another Way
Meanwhile, back in the post-Eurovision 2019 world, we have to go back to struggling against the occupation, and to a world were Netanyahu and his wife Sarah will return to the headlines. Still, when Israeli singer Neta Barzilai, the 2018 winner with her feminist anthem “Toy” who brought Eurovision to Tel Aviv said when asked – “Would you want to see a Palestinian song in a future Eurovision contest?”, her response was, “Sure, why not?” We all have a lot more work to do to enable that to happen. As Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Mira Awad, the Israeli entry in the 2009 Eurovision competition said in Hebrew and Arabic, “There Must Be Another Way”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBTQFOkFZw8