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Tags: eurovision | olympics | israel | ukraine

Can Cultural Collaborations Actually Bring Peace?

eurovision on screen with fans profiled in background and female singer shown in foreground
Sweden's singer Loreen performs after winning the final of the Eurovision Song contest on May 14 in Liverpool, England. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Micah Halpern By Wednesday, 24 May 2023 12:59 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Two-hundred million people sat on the edge of their seats watching and listening to the "67th Annual Eurovision Song Contest," colloquially known simply, as Eurovision. Americans were hardly among their number.

In fact, to put it in perspective, Americans probably know more about the sport of curling — a sport watched only every four years during the Winter Olympics — than they know about Eurovision.

Eurovision is for the American public what the World Cup is for the American public. While we know nearly nothing about these events, the remainder of the world is glued to them, enthralled by them, charmed by them.

Eurovision is akin to a musical Olympics. It is a spectacle. It is an extravaganza. It is an annual event during which 54 member countries and 30 associate member countries of the European Broadcasting Union compete to be crowned the best musical performance of the year.

Each participating country sends a singer to perform its country's musical entry. Songs are judged not by a panel of experts, but by the viewers from participating countries.

During Eurovision, international rivalries are pushed aside. More importantly, politics are pushed aside.

Last year Ukraine won. That decision, those votes were probably to be expected. Traditionally, the previous year's winner hosts the next year's contest. Given that Ukraine is still at war with Russia, another venue was chosen — Liverpool. And the city was festooned with Ukrainian memorabilia.

Some of the world's best-selling singles were first performed at Eurovision. ABBA won with "Waterloo" in 1974. The song was a nod to the 1815 Battle of Waterloo during which Napoleon was defeated by a joint force from England and the Netherlands, successfully ending Napoleon's Empire.

Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias, Cliff Richard, Olivia Newton-John have all been Eurovision winners.

This year Sweden won. Finland took second place. Israel was third. Italy fourth, and Norway fifth.

The third place winner is the most intriguing. Israel has won the competition four times — in 1978, 1979, 1998, and 2018. Israel has hosted Eurovision three times, twice in Tel Aviv and once in Jerusalem. Israel has made it into the finals 38 times out of 45 appearances.

Israel, the little country with the long list of enemies. Israel, the only democratic country in its region being slammed by the international community for anti-democratic machinations. Israel, the country that one either loves, or hates, or loves to hate.

Given the amount of hatred directed at the Jewish State, it is startling that it has been so successful on the international music stage. Especially so because the voting is done by you and by me — by viewers from participating countries sitting in their dens, living rooms and bedrooms and casting their votes.

These voters were able to push aside politics and prejudice and predispositions and cast their votes for the most talented voices they heard. Israeli musical artists have become household names around the world because of Eurovision. Because of their talent, their sheer talent. It's as simple as that.

Song, like sport, has successfully overshadowed politics in the international arena. Song, like sport, has cast Israel in a positive light.

As in song, Israel has made its mark on the judo mat.

In 1992, during the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Israel won its first ever Olympic medal in any sport. The sport was judo and that year Israel won both a silver and a bronze medal. From that moment on, Israel has won medals in judo at world championships, Asian championships, European championships.

Music, like sport, is an international language. The focus is on performance, on perfection, on creativity. Politics be damned.

The song "A-Ba-Ni-Bi" brought Israel's first Eurovision title in 1978. Written in a child's language, similar to pig Latin only in Hebrew, the title of the song means "I Love You." 

The next year, 1979, Israel won again with the song "Hallelujah," made famous in the U.S. when sung by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Dana International won again in 1988 with "Diva" and in 2018, Netta won with "Toy."

In a world based on talent and creativity, that's where Israel would be soaring. When societies and world leaders base decisions on successes, when they establish relationships and draft foreign policies reflective of a desire to improve their nations, that's where Israel has an opportunity to excel. I call that an even playing field.

The Abraham Accords are perfect examples. These agreements between Arab nations and Israel are not about ideologies and politics. They are about mutual benefits. Arab countries benefit from Israel's great creativity in technology and weaponry. Were it to be only about ideology, the friendship circle would be smaller.

Machiavelli once said "better to be feared than loved." Had he been alive today, he might have revised his statement to "better to be respected for your contributions than stereotyped and hated."

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern," a weekly TV program, and "My Chopp," a daily radio spot. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.

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Music, like sport, is an international language. The focus is on performance, on perfection, on creativity. Politics be damned.
eurovision, olympics, israel, ukraine
Wednesday, 24 May 2023 12:59 PM
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