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Snir Levi

Eurovision 2024: Battling Antisemitism on the World Stage

Flowers, a symbol for Israeli soldiers lost at war.

Introduction

I am thrilled to share my first contribution to the Times of Israel, which includes two complementary pieces exploring Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. Although it has been almost two months since Eden Golan secured 5th place in the Eurovision final, the cultural and political implications of this event remain profoundly significant. The first part, written by me, delves into the historical and cultural significance of Eurovision for Israel. The second part, by my esteemed colleague Sam Mitchell, a hedge fund analyst, provides a detailed statistical analysis of audience votes and highlights the impact of Israel’s entry.

What happens in Eurovision doesn’t stay at Eurovision. Watched by between 160 and 190 million people globally, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the world’s largest live broadcast events, surpassing many other non-sporting events in viewership. The sheer reach and impact of the contest have far-reaching implications for each participating country and broader European culture. For Israel, participating since its early days in the 70s meant an opportunity to prove itself on the world stage — and there was indeed a lot to prove.

Historical Context and Significance

Only three decades after six million Jews were annihilated on European soil and Jewish culture was nearly erased, Israel’s participation in Eurovision held a unique and profound significance. Unlike other countries where Eurovision is mostly a cultural pastime with subtler political undertones, for Israelis, participation in the contest tapped into a national post-traumatic need to assert ourselves as an underdog, to overcome adversity, and to prove ourselves through each entry. This need to demonstrate resilience and strength was not just a part of the competition; it was the very essence and semiotics of Israel’s Eurovision entries, and it remains so to this day.

Cultural and Political Analysis

For Israel, Eurovision has always been a vital platform to negotiate its identity on the world stage, “vent” its grief, and express its national aspirations during tumultuous times. Through artistic cultural production—melody, lyrics, and dance—Israel conveyed its experiences and emotions. Israel’s entries often coincided with periods of war and relative peace with the Palestinians and neighboring countries, reflecting the nation’s fluctuating global perception. Artistic cultural production through Eurovision became an empowering tool for ordinary Israelis who were more than willing to spend their tax shekels on the contest to ensure their national sentiment was communicated to the world, feeling their voices were heard by a global community otherwise biased or indifferent.

While some years saw entries weakened by internal issues such as low budgets, lack of organization, and creative direction, or times of internal chaos, Israelis rested assured that each year presented an opportunity for political resistance, empowerment, and message-sending through cultural production and representation, fostering a sense of self-worth, national pride, and agency.

A National Triumph Over Adversity

Suddenly, previously disenfranchised survivors in Israel, emerging from the shadows of the Holocaust, had an opportunity to showcase the powerful narrative of resilience and renewal that is Zionism. This was displayed to the very bearers of those shadows and their individual and collective traumas in Germany, Poland, and Lithuania. Each ‘douze points’ was another ‘Am Israel Chai’ in their face, every victory an elation and catharsis for the Jew whose knees were trembling no more.

The therapeutic aspect of Eurovision for Israel is underscored by the ongoing conflicts with neighboring Arabs. It is not merely that Israelis survived the Nazis; they have faced continual threats and needed something to sustain their spirit—an ongoing cultural healing. Eurovision became a tool for the Israeli spirit to cry out, heal, communicate, and reshape itself repeatedly amidst the precarious reality of living in a consistently war-torn country and being an oppressed people for millennia. This resilience was not only a testament to the European Jews who survived the Holocaust but also included Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, who were freshly expelled from their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa, adding layers to the collective story of overcoming adversity and seeking renewal.

Eurovision as a Political Tool

Many cultural critics agree that Eurovision’s role as a political tool is precisely why the contest became one of the most important mainstream launching pads for timeless Israeli hits, forever ingrained in Jewish memory. These include songs of peace and resilience like “Hallelujah” by Milk and Honey, which won in 1979, and Ofra Haza’s “Hi” (Alive), which came in second in 1983; coded songs about war like 1974’s “Natati La Hayai” (I Gave Her My Life) by Poogy; and songs addressing identity politics relevant to the cultural zeitgeist like “Diva” by Dana International, which won as an LGBTQ symbol in 1998, and Netta’s “Toy” (winner, 2018), which championed body positivity and female empowerment amidst the Me Too movement.

Having won four times, even those who initially sneered at the contest in Israel eventually had to acknowledge its significance, especially after realizing Eurovision’s ability to harness progressive internal politics and important issues from within Israel to shape culture and progress internationally. To the broader public, it stirred a profound sense of national pride that could no longer be ignored.

These are the factors that underpinned the immense significance of this year’s contest for Israelis and Jews worldwide, in a year when Israel faced the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and antisemitism surged to unprecedented levels. This makes this year’s Eurovision arguably Israel’s most important year because, with so much at stake, the very psychological sentiments underlying our participation were stirred more than ever before in the contest’s history, which explains the remarkable ratings, with more Israelis and Jews worldwide watching and closely following the event than ever before.

One ‘Hurricane’ of a Process

Eden Golan’s “Hurricane” (originally “October Rain”), Israel’s Eurovision entry for 2024, is a potent cultural artifact that demands analysis to understand how antisemitism operates, the state of Israel in the world today, and our future. This entry, written by Keren Peles and Avi Ohayon, represents a layered expression of Israeli resilience and identity. Peles, often referred to as Israel’s ‘sweetheart,’ has been capturing the soul and spirit of the country through her heartfelt, passionate songs since her breakout in the early 2000s. Known for her nurturing, ‘Paula Abdul-like’ persona, she even played a similar role on Israeli Idol. Ohayon, celebrated for creating the post-October 7 hit “Am Yisrael Chai” (The Nation of Israel Lives), brought his powerful touch to the collaboration. These talents perfectly aligned with Eden Golan, a fresh breakout star with a powerhouse singing voice, creating a symbiotic moment where the perfect piece for the year of October 7th came together in the most fitting way.

Or so we’d think.

Immediately after its conception, the EBU rejected the entry for its “political nature,” a move seen as hypocritical by both the Israeli public and the Israeli Eurovision fandom, sparking numerous public statements of frustration and rage on social media. The EBU has historically allowed highly political entries to pass without issue, such as Ukraine’s “Stefania,” which won by a landslide and is widely considered by Eurovision critics to be the “final proof” of the contest’s political nature, given its context related to the Ukraine war. Another example is Ukraine’s Jamala with “1944,” which also won and addressed war, particularly the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union, featuring potent lyrics such as “They come to your house, they kill you all and say, we’re not guilty.” So why was Israel being held to another standard?

Antisemitism at Play

First came the behind-the-scenes rejection. The original lyrics for Israel’s 2024 entry, titled “October Rain,” carried profound emotional weight that reflected the current Jewish struggle and echoed past Jewish trauma in light of recent events. Many poignant references to the fresh Jewish pain of October 7 were altered or removed. Notably, the original lyrics included the Hebrew outro: “there is no more air to breathe, there is no space, there is none of me from day to day, they’re all good kids, each of them one by one,” which alluded to the suffocating loss and the fallen soldiers, referred to as “flowers” in Hebrew. The phrase “they’re all good kids, each of them one by one” poignantly memorialized those lost. These lines were rejected and eventually replaced with “there is no need for fancy words, just prayers, even when it’s hard to see, you always leave me one little light,” shifting the focus from collective mourning to a more generalized message of hope.

Other original verses like “I’m still wet from this October rain” were changed to “I’m still broken from this hurricane,” transforming specific historical and recent traumatic references into a more abstract struggle. The powerful imagery of “October rain” was lost, along with the immediate connection to the traumatic events in Israel.

Manifest and latent antisemitism were both present in this year’s Eurovision. Covertly, the relentless demands for changes to Israel’s entry revealed a hidden prejudice, a subtle yet pervasive form of discrimination that undermined the integrity of the contest. This coded antisemitism was further exemplified by ongoing passive-aggressive behaviors from some participating delegations toward Israel. Instances included Norway ignoring Israel on the red carpet, Greece and the Netherlands yawning while Eden was speaking at the winners’ press conference, and Ireland discussing how she and her team cried when they found out Israel made it to the final. Most strikingly, the Netherlands’ first-ever disqualification from the contest due to violent behavior towards a camerawoman was immediately scapegoated on Israel. A story emerged from group-think speculation that the Israeli delegation ‘provoked’ him, despite the Israelis not being involved at all. This incident reveals the insidious nature of antisemitism and its manifestation in social dynamics.

The ways in which these covert actions played out are worthy of careful analysis and further cultural critique to understand how antisemitism operates in cultural circles and the forces behind the BDS movement in action, which ostracizes artists simply because they are from Israel.

Overt Antisemitism

Overt antisemitism was glaringly evident in the public eye. The biased votes from the juries against Israel highlighted the entrenched prejudices within the Eurovision framework. This overt discrimination was not just a reflection of personal biases but an institutional failure to uphold the principles of fairness and equality. Objectively, as a Eurovision expert watcher since 2005, I can say that an analysis of Eden’s performance shows a bias in the jury’s scoring. Eden’s performance was flawless in all the criteria that the judges are supposed to balance: vocals, choreography, and staging. If Israel had been any other country, Eden would likely have placed in the top three. Just last year, Noa Kirel won first in the judges’ scores, and Eden’s performance was of a similar caliber.

This was accentuated by the jeering and booing of the crowd each time Israel received even one point from the jury throughout the night. Only a handful of countries gave Israel points, with the highest being 8 points from a couple of countries. The boos from the crowd were louder than the cheers of the fans of the countries that received the points and more palpable than the happiness of the delegations that got the douze points combined.

These examples of covert and overt antisemitism in Eurovision 2024 underscore the need for continued vigilance and critical analysis. Understanding these dynamics is essential for addressing deep-seated biases and ensuring that cultural arenas like Eurovision uphold the values of fairness, equality, and inclusivity. This year’s contest, with its unprecedented viewership and engagement, was arguably Israel’s most significant participation, reflecting the heightened stakes and profound impact on national pride and global perception.

The Power of Jewish Resilience and Ingenuity

Despite the institutional bias and pervasive antisemitism, Israel garnered significant support from televotes, demonstrating that the global audience resonated with Israel’s message and performance. The televotes pushed Israel to fifth place, showcasing that the world, for the most part, still stands by us. This achievement is a testament to Jewish resilience and ingenuity in creativity, as evidenced by our Eurovision successes: winning in 2018, placing third last year, and securing fifth place this year despite unprecedented challenges.

We can be proud of our ability to create and inspire, to turn adversity into art, and to communicate our story to the world. It is a remarkable feat that highlights the strength and determination of the Jewish people. The fact that the closing lyrics of “Hurricane” were in Hebrew, and that this moment elicited the most jeering and booing from the audience, was ironically the biggest act of resistance and the most satisfying statement. We can only hope for a day when speaking Hebrew is not seen as subversive.

Conclusion: Am Israel Chai (The People of Israel Live)

In the end, we can only imagine where we would be without all the hate and conflict today as a people and a nation. But then again, maybe it is the fact that we are always up against so much adversity that pushes us to excellence to begin with. Our resilience and ability to thrive in the face of hardship are what make us strong and unique. Am Israel Chai (The People of Israel Live).


The Hero Who Won the Popular Vote By Sam Mitchell

If ever a country had no use for a single paladin to inspire its populace to nobility and accomplishment, it’s Israel. Israel is a nation with mandatory military service where every young adult’s bildungsroman includes the realization that their nation’s prosperity is persistently precarious, where its universal love for life, boundless creativity, and entrepreneurial dynamism is largely confined to its own borders with neighbors harboring genocidal hatred for the mere existence of its people. Israelis seemingly have an instinctive sense of duty – of serving their nation and of preserving their deep sense of curiosity, wonder, and playful spirit.

But tragedy can paralyze even the most buoyant of nations. The deeply personal, intimately targeted, demonic brutality unleashed at Israelis on October 7th shook a people to its core. Israelis – with their instinctive sense of duty – flew back home in droves to volunteer, in some cases their lives, to ensure the enemy’s inability to effectuate such carnage again. That duty united Israelis and the broader global Jewish community – but left its people still individually broken. We thought we were too strong, too united, too laser-focused on navigating the practical realities of the real world to need a hero. We were wrong. We needed a hero. We needed a rallying cry.

On March 10, we were introduced to Eden Golan’s Hurricane. A song, replete with metaphorical allegories to the day of the largest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, poignantly tragic yet exuberantly uplifting. The song we all needed without knowing it. The song that filled our hearts with love, pride, and a resurgent sense of duty not just to persevere but to thrive. The musical exemplar of Am Yisrael Chai.

Just a 20-year-old musician, Golan entered Malmo, Sweden warned by Israeli intelligence officials not to travel outside of her hotel room to ensure her personal safety. Her trip was objectively terrifying. 20,000 protestors surrounded her hotel room (included a well-known activist who was ultimately arrested) and dozens attempted to break into her motorcade of ~100 local police officers. Pursuing the dream of many a young woman, Golan took to the stage to share her beautiful message and equally melodious voice only to face raucous boos, fellow contestants declaring that they cried when finding out she earned sufficient votes to appear in the Grand Finale, and other contestants mimicking falling asleep or covering their faces as she spoke at a press conference – a press conference where a journalist had the temerity to ask her, perversely, whether she thought about the fact that her presence put the other contestants in danger.

Through what to most would be an unbearably harrowing ordeal, Golan not only maintained her composure, she radiated endearing warmth. Her imperviousness was not simply thick skin, emotional detachment, or even a rebellious display of bravado. Her courage was the rarest of all – in a seemingly infinite sea of hate, she simply oozed love. She was fully confident in her ability to display to the world not just her artistic talent but the soul of her country. “With all the boos, with all the shouting, I said shout even more, it ignited me. I don’t know how to explain it, it gave me strength to show how beautiful our nation is. With everything happening around us, we somehow still manage to give love, to pass on the good, and to show how beautiful our nation is.” In her mind, she just had to sing a song…it was her brethren that were risking their lives fighting an existential war against a barbaric enemy.

In the face of unbridled hatred, Golan competed on a global stage with superhuman poise, grace, and beauty. Her country kvelled as she proudly held up the Israeli flag during Israel’s introduction to the serendipitously apropos lyric “I don’t care, I love it” and proceeded to hit every note and intricate bit of choreography when her time to perform arrived. Even when the competition was over, her smile only grew larger as she declared “I didn’t want it to end, I wanted to go out on that stage 100 more times.”

Jews around the world needed a hero. We needed a rallying cry. We got the latter when Hurricane was released. We got the former during Eden’s extraordinary performance in Malmo – both on, and equally importantly, off the stage. She is truly the embodiment of the Jewish spirit – joyously resilient.

The world agreed. Israelis screamed ecstatically when – for a moment – the public vote propelled Israel to the top spot on the Eurovision leaderboard. Israelis rejoiced that, amidst a global onslaught of Jew hatred carefully branded as “anti-Zionism” (read: hatred only of Jews without weak knees), Golan came in an impressive second place in the public vote among 25 Eurovision finalists. However, second place in Eurovision’s public vote score fails to capture the full extent of Eden’s triumph. Golan received the #1 public vote score in 15 regions, including each of the top six and 10 of the top 12 by population. Altogether, Golan received the most public votes in regions spanning a whopping ~70% of the European voting population (even higher when including Israel’s victory in the expansive Rest of World category) – this compares to fellow 300+ public vote score competitors Croatia and Ukraine receiving the top vote in regions covering only ~8% and ~11% of the European voting population, respectively. On this factor alone, it is a near certainty that Israel received the highest number of total global votes. But if Italy’s semifinal results are any indicator, Israel received the most votes by a dominant margin.

Following Eurovision’s second semifinals, Italy’s broadcaster inadvertently revealed Italy’s vote distribution across 16 contestants, with Israel receiving 39.3% of votes ahead of the second highest of 16 contestants at 7.3% and the third highest at 6.7%. Applying the Italian public voting distribution across regions in the finale would have resulted in Israel receiving an extraordinary 29% of total public votes vs. Croatia and Ukraine at 9% and 8%, respectively. While a variety of factors likely resulted in a more compressed finale vote distribution than what can be extrapolated from one semi-finals result in Italy, any reasonable estimate based on publicly available population and viewing data would indicate Ms. Golan won the popular vote by a large margin – possibly more total votes than Croatia and Ukraine combined!

EBU releasing total vote counts would be welcome news, indeed, for Israel. The silent majority, whether sympathetic to Israel’s ongoing struggle for self- determination or, more likely, inspired by Ms. Golan’s brilliance, could not have made its voice louder. Eden may not have won a glass trophy – but she won two things more valuable to her country; the hearts of every Jew across the world…and the global popular vote.

About the author: Sam Mitchell is a partner at a Los Angeles-based hedge fund.

About the Author
Snir Levi is a strategist and researcher uniquely combining deep cultural, social, and digital insights with actionable solutions for diverse organizations. Holding an MSc in Culture and Society with Honors from the London School of Economics and a Summa Cum Laude BA in Communication from the University of Southern California, I bring a rich academic foundation in cultural studies, media and audience studies, gender studies, consumer psychology, cultural and critical theory, semiotics, and applied psychoanalysis. In my graduate work at LSE, I specialized in Cultural Theory & Cultural Forms and Qualitative Methods for Cultural Research. My dissertation provided empirical evidence of the ‘creative class’ as ‘active audiences,’ driving the cultural and economic growth of creative cities. My undergraduate research on brand influence on masculinity perceptions earned a ‘Discovery Scholarship’ and inclusion in Outstanding Academic Papers by Students (OAPS). With over eight years at Catalyst Group International, I’ve spearheaded innovative qualitative research strategies, enhancing our understanding of complex market dynamics. My earlier roles include Insights Analyst at the Stanford Genome Technology Center and Leadership Fellow at the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Additionally, I am an Independent ME/CFS Advocate and a Founding Board Member for mecfsisrael.org and Dysautonomia Israel. I am passionate about supporting marginalized communities, promoting groundbreaking research, and increasing public awareness. To discuss potential collaborations or for more insights into my work, visit snirlevi.com.
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