While relatively few Americans have heard of, let alone paid attention to, the annual Eurovision song contest, for Europeans, as well as many Middle Easterners, it is a major annual event—a sort of international musical Super Bowl. Since Israel’s contestant won the 2018 competition, this year’s, which began yesterday, is taking place in Tel Aviv. Shayna Weiss explains why hosting the event is a matter of national pride to Israelis:
Cynics criticize the festival as a cheesy competition with bad music and outrageous costumes and mock its naïve sentimentality. But not taking Eurovision seriously or ignoring it altogether means ignoring the power of cultural politics and performance. Eurovision is a deeply political activity disguised as a campy contest that hopes to transcend those very politics. For Israel, being part of Eurovision is a potent way of asserting its identity as a member of the community of nations. It’s a reflection of the classic Zionist idea of normalization, of creating a Jewish country that is a country like any other. Winning Eurovision and hosting Eurovision send the message that Israel is important in the cultural realm, that it is on the map for something other than the conflict with the Palestinians.
The contest offers an opportunity for Israel to advertise to the world the kind of country it wants to be, a musical message to be broadcast in three minutes or less. As the host country, Israel also has the opportunity to convince viewers to visit and spend their tourist dollars there—or at the very least to have a slightly more favorable view of the country. . . .
Like any Eurovision host city, Tel Aviv will advertise an idealized version of itself. [Unsurprisingly], various BDS efforts pushed contestants not to participate this year. Despite the pressure, no countries dropped out, though the Icelandic techno band Hatari has been vocal in its opposition to Israel. In an interview, the band indicated that being kicked out for its criticism of Israel would be the best outcome, but if it can adhere to the rules and remain apolitical on stage, it has a chance of winning. . . .