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Israel in Eurovision: Pioneers of Change Through Entertainment

By Pam Fitzsimmons

Noa Kirel on the red carpet at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2022 on November 13, 2022. Credit: Kate Green/Getty Images for MTV

The annual Eurovision Song Contest is one of the largest music events in the world. It brings together more than 30 different acts from across Europe, Israel, and Australia, with its winner determined by viewers in these countries. Throughout its participation in the Eurovision, Israel has certainly made its mark. Its diverse range of singers have continuously challenged people’s views on various societal issues. This year’s upcoming contest will mark 25 years since Dana International’s win in the 1998 contest with her song ‘Diva.”

Dana, born Yaron Cohen, was Eurovision’s first transgender winner, in a Europe that was very different from what it is today (Barlow 2018). She faced societal norms that looked down on her in her native Israel, as Orthodox Rabbis in Israel equated her representation of Israel as “sending a message of darkness to the world” (Donnelly 1998). Her performance also encountered threats from several European broadcasters to cut out her performance (Barlow 2018). Although Eurovision is now largely associated with LGBTQ+ pride and allyship, in 1998 there was a different attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community. Dana International is credited by some as being a pioneer in Eurovision and making it a safe space for LGBTQ+ artists today that it is well known for today (Barlow 1998).

Another Israeli participant who used their performance to challenge societal norms is Netta Barzilai, who encouraged female empowerment from patriarchal social structures. The term ‘stefa’ (a lot of cash) is used in the line “I don’t care about your stefa baby” enforces the message urging female financial empowerment in her performance (Winokur 2018). Netta’s performance also challenged conventional beauty standards, with Barzilai choosing to wear brightly colored clothing, which contrasts the black clothing that she was instructed to wear at the beginning of her career to maintain the stereotype that thin is beautiful in the entertainment industry, according to an interview. (Winokur 2018) The first lyric in ‘Toy’ reinforces this message of body positivity: “Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature.”

Israel’s 2023 Eurovision representative, Noa Kirel, has some similar characteristics to Cohen and Barzilai. The 21-year-old has been active in raising awareness about antisemitism, most notably by her choice of outfit at the recent MTV Europe award show, during which she wore a top and pants that displayed faces of Kanye West wearing Star of David necklaces (Cramer 2022). Kriel’s sense of right and wrong, along with her courage to speak out, are reminiscent of Netta and Dana, and it would not be surprising if she left a similar mark on the contest’s viewers.

The 2023 Eurovision Song Contest will take place in a few months in Liverpool, England, with the competition beginning with the semifinals on May 9th. Feel free to visit Eurovision's website to learn more about the competition.

Pam Fitzsimons is a senior majoring in International Studies with a specialization in Global Economics. She plans to obtain her master's degree in political economics and her Ph.D. in economics and has a long-term goal to start her own business that encourages female entrepreneurs who are at risk of domestic violence in her native Ireland. She is also passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and focuses much of her research on the marginalization of women and LGBTQ+ people in several countries. Throughout her time at AU, she has worked at the Center for Israel Studies, where she has had the opportunity to learn more about Israel. In her free time, she enjoys watching soccer, listening to sports podcasts, and reading.

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