April 17, 2024

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Israel's Eurovision entry is under scrutiny due to alleged reference to Hamas

Israel's Eurovision entry is under scrutiny due to alleged reference to Hamas

  • Written by Mark Savage
  • BBC music correspondent

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Eden Golan will represent Israel in this year's competition

Israel has said it will withdraw from the Eurovision Song Contest if organizers try to censor its participation.

This comes after lyrics to Eden Golan's 'October Rain' were leaked to the media earlier this week.

According to Israel Hayom, the song refers to the victims of the October 7 Hamas attacks, and its lyrics say: “They were all good kids, every single one of them.”

Eurovision organizer EBU said it is currently evaluating the song.

The contest rules prohibit political messages, in a gesture of neutrality.

In previous years, the European Broadcasting Union forced national acts to change the lyrics of their songs. In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the competition after its proposed entry – “We don't want to enter” – was rejected because of its apparent references to the Russian president.

In a statement regarding Israel's entry into 2024, organizers said: “The EBU is currently in the process of vetting the lyrics, which is a confidential process between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision is made.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or lyrics.”

However, Israel's public broadcaster, KAN, said it would reject any request to change the song's lyrics.

“It should be noted that for the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, there is no intention to replace the song.”

“This means that if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition, which will be held in Sweden next May.”

A “scandalous” decision.

The song is described as a “touching and powerful ballad” and is based on the phrase “I'm still wet from the October rains.”

In the verse, Golan sings: “Who told you that children don’t cry/ Hours and hours/ And flowers/ Life is not a game for cowards.”

The reference to flowers is important, according to Israel Hayom, because it is a military slang word for war dead.

The song then ends in Hebrew: “No more air to breathe / No place / No me, from day to day.”

Kan channel said that Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar called the head of the European Broadcasting Union to ask the committee to approve the song.

The radio reported, “The minister wrote in his letter that Israel is going through one of its most complex periods, and that this fact cannot be ignored when choosing a song to represent it.”

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Pop star Noa Kirel placed third for Israel in last year's song competition in Liverpool

Zohar wrote on X that it would be a “scandal” to exclude the song.

He added, “The song Israel, which Eden Golan will perform, is a touching song that expresses the feelings of the people and the nation these days, and is not political.”

“We all hope that Eurovision remains a musical and cultural event rather than a political arena – where participating countries can bring their uniqueness and nationalism to the stage through music.

He added: “I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to work professionally and impartially, and not to allow politics to influence art.”

Calls for its exclusion

Separately, musicians from other countries participating in the Eurovision contest called for Israel's membership to be suspended due to the war in Gaza.

In December, the Society of Composers and Lyricists of Iceland published a statement saying that Israeli military action made its participation incompatible with an event “characterized by joy and optimism.”

Similar protests have been raised in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, with many of them pointing out that Russia has been left out since it invaded Ukraine two years ago.

So far, Eurovision organizers have resisted calls to exclude Israel, saying the situation in Ukraine and Gaza are different.

“Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult, and as an apolitical media organisation, we cannot make them,” Noel Curran, director general of the EBU, said in a statement.

“We understand the deep concerns and views regarding the current conflict in the Middle East,” he said. But he added that Eurovision “is not a competition between governments.”

“The EBU is allied with other international organisations, including sports federations, federations and other international bodies, which have similarly maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants in major competitions at this time,” the statement concluded.

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