Since Israel joined the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1970s, she has been represented by, among other things, a joint Jewish-Arab peace song, the first transgender performer to compete in and win the competition, and bands featuring members from more than eight countries.
Netta Barzilai, who brought the competition back to Tel Aviv this year, did so on a wave of radical self-acceptance and female empowerment.
The Israel of Eurovision reflects some of the most important progressive Zionist values. It’s a celebration of diversity, individuality, pluralism, internationalism, inclusivity and openness.
Behind its garish costumes and frivolous and cheesy exterior is an important message about the cultural and social identity of modern Israel – a country whose representatives on other parts of the world stage are not always those who reflect the same kind of values.
There has been considerable discussion in the media about whether excitement around Eurovision and a desire to live in the fantasy world it creates risks eclipsing the important reality that not all who live under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government have access to the same freedoms the competition celebrates.
In her song, Al Kol Eleh, the Israeli poet and songwriter Naomi Shemer talks about the balance of the bitter and the sweet. Its lyrics famously contain the words, ‘don’t uproot what has been sown, don’t forget the hope’. She reminds us it is possible and important to hold complexity and to protect what is good and promising.
It can be true that there are serious and important issues of religion and state, discrimination and occupation that deserve progress and attention, and that there are flourishing parts of Israeli society reflecting the very highest of Jewish values.
As Eurovision comes to Tel Aviv this week, it waters the shoots of progress and brings energy, community and joy with it.
Enjoying this moment does not mean ignoring the work still to be done, but the road ahead is long and weekends such as this symbolise what we work for; an open and unapologetic celebration of humanity,
creativity and diversity.
- Deborah Blausten is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College