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Israel’s Participation And Its Impact On The Artists At Eurovision 2024 Written by on March 21, 2024 | 7 Comments

After weeks of uncertainty, we now know Israel will compete in the Eurovision Song Contest 2024. Some artists in this year’s Song Contest have commented publicly about how they feel about Israel’s participation, and others haven’t. Ben Robertson explores how this impacts the experience for the other 36 acts going to Malmö.

Israeli broadcaster KAN will appear at the Eurovision Song Contest 2024.

This has not been a certain outcome all season. Israel’s 22-episode-long selection show to find a Eurovision artist was originally postponed and rescheduled citing the death of two Israeli soldiers in October. By February, all was complete and 20-year-old Eden Golan had won the right to represent Israel.

Israeli media reports that following Eden’s victory, the song ‘October Rain’ was first submitted as a possible Eurovision entry for Eden, followed by ‘Dance Forever’. Both, we understand, were rejected by the European Broadcasting Union for their overtly political lyrics.

The Eurovision entry for Israel is the song ‘Hurricane’, a rewriting of the lyrics to the song ‘October Rain’, which was pre-approved by the European Broadcasting Union before being publicly released. “Careful scrutiny” of the lyrics was undertaken by the Reference Group for the Eurovision Song Contest before the song was accepted “in accordance with the rules of the competition.” ESC Beat has reported on what changes have been made to said lyrics.

Eden Golan, the representative for Israel at Eurovision 2024 (Photo: Ran Yehezkel)

However ‘Hurricane‘ was almost never created. It was anticipated that Israeli broadcaster KAN would withdraw from the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 when its first proposed song was originally rejected. Political intervention, not least from Israeli President Isaac Herzog, has been part of the catalyst to find a solution to their 2024 Eurovision participation.

“I think it’s important for Israel to appear in Eurovision, and this [participation] is also a statement because there are haters who try to drive us off every stage,” President Herzog said to Israeli media.

Israel’s Impact on the Competing Acts

The Eurovision Song Contest should not need to be like this. It should not need to get itself on the front page of the newspapers when the most senior politicians in the land wade in, nor should it have to tread carefully over geopolitical minefields about what constitutes political lyrics or not. Yet, once again, politics and Eurovision are proving that their symbiosis is impossible to separate. This year, those issues are giving the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest its biggest possible headache.

While the issue of Israeli participation was hanging over the National Final season, in Iceland the decision was made to separate the national final Söngvakeppnin from Eurovision, allowing breathing room for any winning artist to consider participation on the international stage. Hera Björk did defeat fellow competitor Bashar Murad, an artist from Palestine, in a neck-and-neck run off for glory by accumulating 50.8 percent of the total score. Icelandic broadcaster RÚV confirmed that Hera Björk would be their representative one week after the public made their decision.

Time to reflect was also important for Saba after winning Melodi Grand Prix in Denmark. Writing on Instagram four days after gaining the right to represent Denmark at Eurovision, Saba wrote about how “the joy pales in the shadow of the conflict in the Middle East.”

“I share the despair and sorrow, and I try my best to navigate the unfortunate situation. I also have hope that the EBU listens and takes all impressions in.”

Saba goes further to describe how the days following her victory were “incredibly intense” as people threw their “very strong opinions” around, with Saba noting that “at times” it felt like these were being very directly thrown at her and her participation.

Charlo Halvorsen, entertainment director at Norwegian broadcaster NRK, made it clear that any cultural boycott was a governmental decision rather than a broadcaster one. As in Iceland, there was breathing room for MGP winners Gåte to confirm Eurovision participation. In a statement to the Norwegian broadcaster NRK, Gåte’s guitarist Magnus Børmark spoke about how the band “thoroughly discussed how we can use our voices in this crisis” as part of their decision-making process.

Magnus spoke further about this process at Melfest WKND. Part of the decision for Gåte to participate in Malmö was that they could make the “active choice to let the music be the voice”.

“You can put the music in different contexts and it can be politicised, but the musical experience itself needs to be there and with our song there are definitely things to be experienced, things to be felt, that we feel can contribute positively to the situation.

“For things to live and evolve things need to be challenged.”

One ally they will have in using their voice will be the Finnish representative, Windows95man. During the performance of ‘No Rules‘ at the National Selection show Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, singer Henri Piispanen performed with Palestinian flags painted on his nails. At the same time, hundreds of protesters were outside the Nokia Arena protesting against Israel’s destructive attacks on the Gaza Strip and their participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. Similarly to Gåte in Norway, Henri Piispanen and Windows95man himself, Teemu Keisteri, took time after their victory to consider if they wanted to participate in Malmö with Israel also set to take part.

On confirming participation in Malmö, Teemu Keisteri released this statement:

“We think that the only correct decision for the EBU would be to exclude Israel from the competition. However, we do not feel that withdrawing ourselves would make an impact. Instead, we have started discussions with other representatives on how to explore strategies for leveraging our collective influence and use our position to apply pressure on the decision-makers at EBU.”

Asking Artists To Make A Stand

The European Broadcasting Union recognises how large the issue has got, with EBU Director General Noel Curran giving statements about how the expulsion of Russia’s EBU member broadcasters was different than with today’s Israeli broadcaster.

Such statements though do little to appease those who consider Israeli participation in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest as one that would “bring the competition into disrepute”, a term which was originally used by the EBU when Russian participation in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest was stopped.

Today’s reality is that one of the biggest geopolitical issues of the day is ending up beyond the hands of the world’s decision makers or any grandiose statements about how Eurovision is a non-political music event. Questions are no longer being asked to them. Instead, we live in a world where competing artists themselves will be the ones in Malmö who are asked most often to be vocal on this issue.

The statement from Windows95man means that we know the question is being asked of each Eurovision 2024 artist about how they can collaborate to put pressure on the EBU. Never before in the history of the Song Contest has the presence of one nation amongst the other competitors been such a source of tension.

This tension has impacted on Luna, the Polish act at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, who spoke to ESC Insight at Melfest WKND. While “grateful for the opportunity” to be the Polish representative, she has struggled to “have the whole celebration” and “feel the joy” about participating because of the situation.

“I must say I’m really shaken up by the whole situation that is happening.

“Of course I am here for the music but it is also hard to talk all the time about yourself and promote yourself while there is so much harm around. I feel internally that I can not feel that well with the situation, and that good in this place where I am just smiling and having all the fun. I wish the situation was just a little bit different.

“I wish that the music could just unite people.”

There have been numerous artists this season competing in National Finals, or this year at Eurovision, who want to make a stand, publish a statement, and use the platform of being a Eurovision artist to raise the issue of Israel’s conflict to a wider audience. Magnus Børmark from Gåte notes how Eurovision “is a really symbolic platform” for the band to use to raise this as a discussion point.

“We just need to be present and be clear on where we are and then it should be no problem, and there are huge problems now that need to be discussed.”

There are also those artists who don’t want to tackle this enormous discussion point. Not every artist in our Song Contest seeks out a chance to have such a platform. Some musicians create their music to escape the torment of everyday life, musicians who use their art to disappear from a world devoid of politics, borders and war, and musicians who recognise that they are not the people on the planet most well-equipped to be answering questions on this topic.

Luna is one example of many who are so delighted to have the opportunity to go to the Eurovision Song Contest. However, Luna is finding their experience in Malmö, where she feels the need to be more guarded than otherwise to share the joy she wishes to share through her Eurovision journey.

Clouding Over This Eurovision Song Contest

As long as there is continued devastation and shocking loss of life in Gaza, the issue of Israeli participation at Eurovision 2024 is going to continue to be a talking point, and one thrust upon all of our competing artists. Never before will we have a Song Contest clouded by the fact that each act is going to be asked if they think another country should take part. No doubt, come pre-party season and the press conferences in Malmö, every single act in the 2024 cohort will have been publicly asked to give their opinion about Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The cultural and political significance to Israel of its participation in Malmö has been made clear by the comments of Israel’s president. Government statements are part of the equation that has helped ensure Israel does take part in Eurovision 2024. However, the reality is that the other 36 competing Eurovision artists will see the issue of Israeli participation cloud their Eurovision experience, overshadowing their journey, leaving them needing to find words to express their feelings in ways that few others on our planet are required to.

At times like this, I wish the Eurovision Song Contest wasn’t so tied up in its inevitable geopolitics, but once again, the Song Contest will be used as one of the biggest political theatres our planet has to offer.

And it is our artists that will reluctantly find themselves centre stage.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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7 responses to “Israel’s Participation And Its Impact On The Artists At Eurovision 2024”

  1. Rei says:

    Eurovision has always been linked to politics, there have always been boycotts around the contest history.
    The difference between now and then is the massive noise there is on social media. Some people think that state broadcasters have a say on state decisions, when it’s actually the other way around.
    It is also unfair how some media use the contest to create controversy when Israel is not cancelled in other international events and no one’s vocal about it.
    As most fans in Spain say: “People and media who are mocking this year’s ESC for Israel being on it is people who usually give zero f*uks about the contest”
    Fans can have their own way to avoid or ignore Israeli (or Israel-related) acts, and that just comes to individual taste and ideology.
    An impact on performers the conflict has had so far is that artists who have had a clear position turned out also to be the least voted later. Finland and Portugal have been examples of it. I can have my own political views as a voter, but I wouldn’t spend a penny on an act that would later consider withdrawing.

  2. Declan Byrne says:

    We will not be following or watching this years ESC if Israel is allowed to participate

  3. Shai says:

    Your comment lost credibility at the moment you reacted on a Eurovision site, on a Eurovision related article. You are very much following this year ESC, even if you say otherwise.

    You, as a single person,make your own choice in regards to this year’s ESC. Speaking in a “we” from, suggest you represent a wide group of people. Unfortunately for you, you represent only yourself. Nothing more, nothing less.

    You don’t represnt me, as I, a fan of this contest, will follow this year’s ESC,as I have done in the last 50 years.
    The contest is bigger and stronger than ever before. ESC will survive this year, with or without you.

  4. Marc says:

    Let’s assume Israel qualify for the final. If juries have the same opinion as expressed by most of the Eurovision cognoscenti, then I think we’re quickly going to see few points awarded them in the first half of the voting. But then I can see a large televote score coming their way, possibly more than the 185 gained last year by Noa Kirel. Enough to possibly prevent other televote favourites from winning. The decision to use the slogan “United By Music” has already backfired.

  5. johnpegan says:

    I tend to agree with Marc: aside from the horrors of Gaza, what jurors would want to risk sending anyone to Israel for the 2025 Contest? I think Israel will be ignored by many and supported by many, which could result in a strong televote regardless of the entry itself. The song is good, the singer is epic. I won’t be voting for Israel, but doubtless some willl.

  6. Shai says:

    If Israel wins this year, the EBU can do what they did when Ukraine won. Ask another broadcaster to take over the hosting duties.

    The jurries are the unknown factor this year. On any other year, the Israeli song is a classic jurries bait, and a good one, if I may add. But there are some jurries, which I already don’t expect any points from them for the Israeli song.

    It is what is. Not much can be done about it

  7. Will, UK says:

    Whilst I understand feelings are running high, I am actually scared for what the poor girl singing the Israeli entry is going to face when she performs. There are so many ill informed people jumping on this bandwagon, and they are the most dangerous. I actually wish they would withdraw for her safety – but I also understand why they’d not want to back down. In many ways, the situation parallels Ukraine’s – in terms of being invaded (although what happened on Oct 7th is way beyond anything done by Russians). It’s only because Israel can fight back that people have an issue – so the hypocrisy from fans calling for a boycott is off the scale inappropriatene.

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