Netta: Not a toy or a political football

Netta and the Israeli team with the Eurovision trophy. Photo: Thomas Hanses

YOU don’t need the results of the Gen08 or Gen17 survey to understand what it means to be Jewish in Australia, you just needed to see the news last Friday afternoon or be awake at 8.30am last Sunday morning.

The pride felt at Jewish artist Yvette Coppersmith winning the Archibald Prize a few hours before Shabbat turned to elation a few hours after Shabbat, with Facebook feeds flooded as people celebrated Israel’s win at the Eurovision song competition.

While most Australian Jews have never lived in Israel, and some have never visited the country, the community was celebrating.
It didn’t matter if you were left-wing, right-wing, supported Netanyahu or wanted him impeached, the community was captured by Israel’s quirky singer Netta Barzilai.

Eurovision showed how the Australian Jewish community – and indeed the Australian public as a whole – overwhelmingly supports Israel despite the many issues it faces. Because Eurovision has never just been about the music.

The competition was established in 1956 to help bring countries together through light entertainment after World War II.
But 50 years on, divisions are still evident.

People still vote for singers from neighbouring countries – Greece and Cyprus, Nordic states, Baltic states and other like-minded nations regularly support each other votes.
And geopolitical concerns also factor in considerations – hence Russia’s exit at the semi-final stage this year.

Such voting patterns never seems to help Israel’s entrant.
Israel has no neighbours in Eurovision, and, in a sign of the times, Netta was targeted by supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

“Barzilai served in the Israeli navy in 2014. She sang My Sailor is my Angel to navy members, who took part later that year in the Protective Edge massacre in Gaza,” one flyer distributed at Eurovision said.

“Take care to participate in the televoting and give Israeli Apartheid zero points – and ask your friends and family and anyone you know to do the same.”

Netta not only defeated 42 other entrants, she defeated global antipathy to Israel to win the competition.

And the community rode a wave of emotions with her, cheering as she declared, “I love my country. Next time in Jerusalem” – a statement so significant this week of all weeks – just days after Yom Yeruyshalayim and just days before the historic relocation of the US Embassy.

Needless to say, within hours of Netta’s win, there were those calling for a boycott of next year’s Eurovision, among them two European parliamentarians and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Mac Donncha, who claimed “the horrific ordeal of the Palestinian people needs to be highlighted”.

Others say that everyone should attend the competition, but take a stand by singing about BDS.
Such a protest “would without question be the biggest ever success” for the movement,” one columnist wrote online.

It’s too soon to know what will happen in the build up to Eurovison 2019. We pray sense prevails. But one thing we do know from the weekend is that nothing brings the Australian Jewish community together like Israel does.

JOSHUA LEVI is CEO of The AJN.