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Squawking as Israel goes astray at Eurovision


Altough I was just a little girl when I first watched the Eurovision song contest, I remember it like it was yesterday. With no TV at home, we had the privilege of staying up late and watching it at our neighbors. Sitting on their velvety olive-colored sofa, we all felt so much pride in Israel’s songs.

That was the golden age of Israel at the Eurovision. Israel won for two consecutive years in the 1970s. The quality of the actual music, plus the innocence of me being a child and my ignorance of what “Eu” in Eurovision even stood for and why that might be problematic, made it a joy to experience.

Add in that Israel was not subjected to the vitriol it absorbs these days, and the whole Eurovision concept was so very different.

“A-Ba-Ni-Bi” was a song that still passes the test of time and its lyrics and melody are still catchy and fun. It is a form of Hebrew pig latin that linguistically and cleverly plays with the words and concept “I love you.” The following year, Israel won with the now classic “Hallelujah,” a song about unity, peace, gratitude and love. It is another song that stands the test of time and has an anthemic quality to it. In the 1980s, the iconic Ofra Haza sang and won recognition.


n those days, Israel’s participation at Eurovision was in its infancy and it was very exciting, very Jewish and very classy. Some Arab countries boycotted Eurovision and refused to participate so as not to share a platform with the state of the Jews, whom they would not acknowledge (BDS is nothing new — it is simply a way of reinventing reasons and methods for expressing hostility toward Israel). 

Jordan would not air the Eurovision competition on its radio or television stations, and when Israel actually won, the result was intentionally misreported by Jordan as Belgium being the victor. 

Throughout the decades there have been many shenanigans regarding Israel and the Eurovision contest (which I suppose is not literal in its geographic reach as it clearly includes countries of the Levant and does not limit contestants to Europe).

It’s not like I feel Eurovision is such an essential Israeli endeavor, but I do enjoy good music and it can be fun and a way of sharing a piece of Israeli music, culture and pride. 

Then last week, Israel’s entry for Eurovision was leaked. Honestly, these days, I don’t usually keep abreast of Eurovision and its developments, but everyone was talking about it so I tuned in to see what all the fuss was all about.

Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but I’m so embarrassed, is all I could really say. Boy has Israel fallen since its “A-Ba-Ni-Bi,” “Hallelujah” and Ofra Haza days. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears — what passes as good music at all, let alone a song chosen to represent Israel at a musical competition. Oy!

The singer, Netta Barzilai, might very well possess a fantastic voice with a fantastic range, but seriously, Israel? Before even addressing the inappropriate content of the music, you got it — the song is in English! The lyrics are not even in Hebrew.

At least “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” was a witty play on the Hebrew alphabet, with an inspiring message. Like its title, the refrain in “Hallelujah” was a word from the Psalms, and again, it carried an inspirational message. Barzilai’s song does not lend dignity to women. And speaking of women, here’s a little piece of trivia for you: In a field dominated by men, the conductor of “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” was a woman, one of three in all the years of Eurovision, and the conductor of a winning song to boot!

When Yitzhak Navon was Israel’s minister of culture and was displeased with one of Israel’s musical entries in Eurovision, he threatened to resign. Well, I’m not minister of anything so my opinion will have no impact (by the way he did not carry through on the threat), but something tells me I am not the only one who feels this way about this song, since a video mocking the entry that used the sounds of chickens squawking has gone viral and indeed it is quite hysterical.

Seriously, though, where is the gumption of the contemporary Israeli minister of culture — because this situation calls for an SOS intervention. Pronto!

Bring back musical quality, Jewish Israeli pride and, my goodness, at the very least: the Hebrew language!

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News