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Relief in Israel after Eurovision participation confirmed: ‘This year it is more important than ever that we are on that stage’

Singer Eden Golan will represent her country with ‘Hurricane’. The lyrics were changed twice because the European Broadcasting Union considered them political. The song initially alluded to the Hamas attack on October 7 and to fallen Israeli soldiers

Eden Golan, who will represent Israel at the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest.
Eden Golan, who will represent Israel at the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest.Redes sociales
Antonio Pita

“Friends, I’m so excited! They just announced that we will be in Eurovision. There is no doubt that they made the right decision in allowing us to participate this year. This year, it is more important than ever that we stand on that stage and represent our country with honor.” That’s how Israeli singer Eden Golan announced the news in a video on Instagram on Thursday.

If she sounded excited, it was precisely because it was not clear that she would be representing Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in May. The deadline for entries was this week, and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) had not yet approved the Israeli entry. The EBU called on Israel to change the lyrics of the song twice, on the grounds that it included political messages, which are banned from Eurovision. The title of the song — which was originally October Rain, in allusion to the Hamas attack on October 7 — was changed to Hurricane.

There were also growing calls for Israel to be excluded from the Eurovision Song Contest due to the war on Gaza, just as Russia was banned from last year’s event due to the war in Ukraine. More than 30,000 Gazans, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s offensive, and the enclave is in the grips of a dire humanitarian crisis.

In an interview with Israeli public television after hearing the news, Golan avoided uncomfortable questions and said that she is “focused” on the competition. She wore a yellow ribbon, which has become a symbol of the campaign to free the more than 130 Israeli hostages in Gaza, who were captured in the October 7 attack. The Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation will unveil the final lyrics on Sunday night, at a special gala on public radio and television. With the exception of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Portugal and Sweden, all 37 participating countries have already elected their Eurovision entries.

The feeling in Israel is that they have saved a set point, but the game is far from over. In Belgium, the French-speaking Minister of Culture, Benedicte Linard, and her Flemish counterpart, Benjamin Dalle, have asked for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision. In Spain, the head of the leftist party Podemos, Ione Belarra, has called for a boycott of Eurovision in protest of its decision to include Israel. “If Israel, which is committing genocide, is going to Eurovision, no country that considers itself democratic and a defender of human rights should participate,” she posted in a message on X (formerly Twitter).

Israel has won Eurovision four times, most recently in 2018, when Netta took home the prize for her song Toy. Israeli media anticipates that there will be protests against Israel in Malmö, Sweden, the host of this year’s competition, and possibly within the venue of the song contest. Indeed, the Israeli delegation to Sweden will be smaller than usual, while its security deployment will be larger. On Friday, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that a team from the Shin Bet, the security agency in Israel and Palestine, will soon travel to Sweden to assess for possible risks.

The decision to allow Israel to participate in this year’s Eurovision has been marked by a mix of indignation and pragmatism. The Israel Broadcasting Corporation initially refused to change the lyrics of October Rain, “even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” The song contained references to “flowers” (an Israeli slang term for fallen soldiers) and more ambiguous lyrics such as “there’s no air left to breathe” and “they were all good children” — apparent references to the Israelis killed in the Hamas attack and those who hid in safe rooms in kibbutzim.

Israel Eurovision
Eden Golan, Israel's representative for the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest.Corporación de Radiodifusión de Israel

At the end of February, Israel’s Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent a letter to the EBU, arguing that the lyrics remain the same on the grounds that they were not “political” but rather “emotional.” “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days,” he wrote.

Raz Shechnik, the music correspondent for the country’s most read newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, also argued against changing the lyrics. In an opinion column, he said Israel should withdraw from the competition before changing the song. “The decision to point out the lyrics as political is correct. Yes, Israeli artists find it difficult to write about other things today after their best friends were massacred. Deal with it,” he said, in reference to what songwriter Keren Peles experienced from a distance.

But for Israel (one of the 17 countries that are not in Europe, but participate in Eurovision because they are members of the EBU) taking part in Eurovision is an opportunity for it to feel like a country like any other and to project the image of modernity it likes to be associated with. This was the case in 1998, when Israel was represented by Dana International, the first trans person in the contest. She won, with the famous song Diva. Two decades later, Israel won Eurovision again with Toy, a song about female empowerment, where the chorus is: “I’m not your toy.”

In the end, Israeli President Isaac Herzog convinced the Israel Broadcasting Corporation to change the lyrics. “It is important that Israel appears in Eurovision,” he said at the end of February, arguing that it’s about “not only being right, but also being smart.”

“The president emphasized that at this time in particular, when those who hate us seek to push aside and boycott the state of Israel from every stage, Israel must sound its voice with pride and its head high and raise its flag in every world forum, especially this year,” said the Israel Broadcasting Corporation.

It remains to be seen what will happen at the event. The 2024 Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Sweden, which is one of the Nordic countries most opposed to allowing Israel to compete. In Sweden, some 1,000 artists, including pop stars and music competition veterans, signed an open letter calling on Israel to be banned from the contest.

But Israel’s bid to take part in Eurovision was supported in another open letter signed by British actress Helen Mirren (who stars as former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in movie Golda), Mayim Bialik (who plays Amy in the Big Bang Theory), singer Boy George and another 400 members of the Creative Community for Peace, a nonprofit organization of creators. Germany’s Culture Minister Claudia Roth also said it would be “a scandal” if Israel was excluded.

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