By Shira Wallach
I always hold my breath these days when I see Israel playing on the world stage. I worry that her actions will be taken out of context, or that I’ll see evidence of growing anti-Israel sentiment coloring the media’s ability to report objectively. And then, I’ll worry about the backlash among fringe groups, which then re-awakens those all over the world who need very little cause to smear Israel.
Perhaps this is why I was so startled to learn about the results of this year’s international song competition. I’ll be honest—I don’t watch the Eurovision song contest. It feels like a camp talent show happening halfway across the world. And furthermore, I assume that political strife among the countries battling for the international title will sway votes. Can this contest really transcend all of the tension among these nations? And with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the rise in Europe, did the entry from Israel stand a chance?
The answer, as you know, is a resounding YES! Netta Barzilai, the winner of this year’s HaKochav Habah, Israel’s version of American Idol (Rising Star), went on to win Eurovision with her song “Toy,” and over the last few weeks, has signed a record deal with S-Curve Records/BMG, reached No. 1 on Spotify’s Viral 50 chart, and amassed over 60 million views on YouTube.
This is our fourth Eurovision win since Israel joined as a participant in 1973. In 1978, our homeland won for “A-ba-Ni-bi,” a clever take on the language of love. We all know that wonderful earworm, “Halleluyah Laolam,” a song that makes you feel that all is right in the world, which took the trophy in 1979. And then, in 1998, Israel nominated Dana International, a trans singer who ignited support from the global LGBTQ community and sailed to the finish line with her song “Diva.” Finally, this year, Netta and her creative team wanted to build a presentation that would bolster the growing #MeToo movement, a social media conversation in which women and men share painful moments of harassment and abuse. Her performance earned 529 points, Israel’s highest score ever.
Netta’s treatment of this incredibly salient issue holds responsible those men in power who see her and other women as nothing more than toys for their pleasure. Her eccentric combination of English, Hebrew, Japanese, and chicken clucking, along with energetic dance music and choreography, is a forceful and strident gesture, signaling “the awakening of female power and social justice,” according to an interview with Wiwibloggs. Netta continues: “My message is that you don’t have to fit the normal standard model of how a person should look, think, talk, and create in order to succeed.” So in addition to combatting objectification of women, Netta also hopes to reframe our conversations about bodies and beauty. Of course, one idea is inextricably tied to the other: by putting less emphasis on outward appearance, we can challenge ourselves to treat each and every person with dignity, elevating the importance of the beauty that people carry in their souls.
Perhaps I should become a Eurovision fan after all—it seems that despite tensions in the international community, that this camp talent show is a forum to bring the most important issues of our day to the forefront, issues that transcend our borders. In a time when women and men are reclaiming their narratives of abuse and harassment, sharing their experiences so that we all can do better, why not have Israel out on the front lines, leading that conversation?
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share