Tuesday, September 18, 2018 -
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Squawking at Eurovision

I was just a little girl when I first watched the Eurovision song contest. Yet 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 in the next apartment over. 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 ia another song that stands the test of time and has an anthemic kind of quality to it.

In the ‘80s, the iconic Ofra Haza sang and won a close second or some other kind of recognition.

In those days, Israel’s participation at Eurovision was in its infancy and it was very exciting, very Jewish and very classy.

Granted, on principle, some Arab countries boycotted Eurovision and refused to participate so as not to share a platform with the State of Israel, 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).

Specifically, there was a scandal about how due to Israel’s participation in Eurovision, Jordan would not air it on its radio or television stations, and to its great dismay when Israel actually turned out to be the winner, it was intentionally misreported by Jordan as Belgium being the victor in the contest. Lebanon also had some history with Eurovision and Israel.

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.

When you time travel to some of the Eurovision classics from Israel, a surge of pride and good memories returns.

Then this 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; that this 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? The main refrain I caught was “I’m not your toy you stupid boy.” So yes, before even addressing the content of the music, you got it, the song is in English! The lyrics are not even written in Hebrew.

At least you could say “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, carried an inspirational message.

If the current song entry, “Toy” was trying to resonate with a #metoo kind of vibe, then personally, I think it is an epic fail. To my mind that is not a song that lends dignity to women at all. Speaking of women, though, 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 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 © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


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