ESC is over, criticism isn’t

A week ago, I was among the tens of thousands of people who celebrated the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel. Like most of them, my partner and I decided not to buy tickets for the event – instead, we joined the crowds in Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park and happily put our money where our mouth was, munching our way through the “EAT TLV” festival which was held on the grounds. From the food stalls, it was a short stroll over to the gigantic stage, where every evening, great live music could be heard and it was easy to dance off the calories just consumed.

Aside from music and food, I was also very curious about how the event would be covered in my German home media. To my delight, most of the articles and video clips I read and saw were very positive (although it seems that one correspondent of a leading newspaper must have visited a different event than me, claiming that not too many Israelis joined the party – whereas I, in the “Eurovillage”, have heard almost nothing but happily excited, gunfire-speed, Hebrew).

Among the few reports which I found to be less sympathetic, I particularly disagreed with an article in “Der Spiegel” that criticized the happy and carefree atmosphere in Tel Aviv. Riddled with irony, it lamented that local and international organizers seemed to deliberately refuse giving the foreign visitors the “full picture” – i.e., more context on the historical background of the festival grounds, an open confrontation with the city’s and the country’s difficult past and present, and a clear acknowledgement of the complicated political situation; obviously not without forgetting to mention that political statements are actually not permitted in and around ESCs.

I found this article to be very much in tune with the “art-washing” argument, which was used by more doubtful sources than a leading German news magazine to discredit Israel’s and particularly Tel Aviv’s efforts around this event, and I wondered why the author of the article apparently takes the view that Israel, with all its complex history, should be obliged to make this history a part of the ESC, and to burden its visitors with all the challenging realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems very likely that, just as myself, most of the international visitors of Tel Aviv were well aware of the rockets which came flying from Gaza less than two weeks before the start of the song contest, and it also seems very likely that, just as myself, the other visitors would be quite happy not to be confronted with these rockets head-on. And why shouldn’t they deserve a happy, carefree celebration, diving into this parallel universe of the ESC, and forgetting their troubles for a while?

And if they do, don’t the people who live here deserve this even more?

In other words, why should this ESC have been different in a political context, just because it took place in Tel Aviv? Isn’t this once again an example for Israelis being expected to have themselves measured against different standards than the citizens in any other country? Why do some deem it suitable to raise a moral finger when it comes to talking about the Jewish State?

From my humble point of view, Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, should be praised for what they accomplished with this Eurovision. I don’t think that any other country would have been capable of hosting such a huge event just days after a severe military incident, which left several dead, hundreds wounded, and thousands scared – of what may have happened, and what may happen in the future, the next round of fighting. Which other place in the world has the determination and the stamina to change from sirens to celebrations within just a few days?

Israel and Tel Aviv have an energetic vibe, a hunger for life, and an everyday optimism which I have not seen in any other place in this world. Even with all its problems, it is quite simply a wonderful place. All of us who came here during the Eurovision should consider ourselves lucky to have been a part of it for just a couple of days. We should be grateful for the warmth and hospitality we received – and which can be had here every day, not only in international events.

Yes, the location of the Eurovision Village was where once the Dolphinarium sat. Yes, this in turn was the site of a terrible suicide bombing attack that killed 21 people, mostly in their teens and early twenties. With the memorial monument on the same site which commemorates this attack and its victims, I don’t see a need to further draw attention to this deeply saddening history. With hundreds of volunteers happily guiding tourists through the city and explaining them all there is to know about the place, I don’t see a need for extra efforts in elucidating the political situation. With local residents opening their homes to strangers for Shabbat dinners as just one of many special events during ESC week, I don’t really see how visitors could have experienced real life here more deeply and more meaningfully.

I do see that this place is different from others around the world. But to my opinion, this does not mean that the people who live here should be measured against different standards. Just as any other ESC hosts, they have a right to a happy and carefree event, enjoying the fun and the exchange with people visiting from other countries. And maybe much more than any other ESC hosts, they deserve to forget their troubles for a while, to not be constantly reminded of the troubles they live with every day.

Aside from political challenges, there is so much more here to see and to experience. The picturesque views, the buzzing energy, the friendliness and sweetness of the people, the happy character of the place – these are real. They’re not part of the ESC show, not staged in order to paint over the difficulties of the place, and they are surely not a blunt attempt to win friends. Tel Aviv doesn’t need to shine the spotlights on itself. It rather seems that some of its critics do.

About the Author
German born Martina Steinhauser is a freelance business consultant for cross-cultural management and communications. Previously, she held various international positions in business development and marketing in the hospitality and the security printing industries. Martina is passionate about writing, traveling, and Israel.
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