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On Netta, Eurovision and Israel’s state propaganda

Madeline Ward thinks Israel should not have won Eurovision

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The costumes, the drama, the geopolitical tensions played out via power ballad: I fuck with Eurovision hard. I watched this year’s offerings in the same manner that I have enjoyed the show every year since I was 17: bullshit high and with great pleasure. It was also in this manner that I watched the Israeli entry. Aside from being one of the most annoying songs I have ever heard, Netta’s Toy is a clear foray into cornering the liberal feminist market and attempting to sell it Brand Israel, having already done the same with its queer and vegan counterparts.

Toy has been touted as a new feminist anthem, its lyrics covering everything from bullying to fuckboys. Its peaked at 49 on the UK charts, but its popularity within eurovision fans knows no bounds. It won the competition, meaning that in 2019 Eurovision will be held in Jerusalem.

“You can like the song without supporting Israel” is a false statement for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that you can’t remove Toy from the context of Israel because it was entered into an international competition that on behalf of Israel. Toy forms a part of the media produced by Israel for a global audience that is designed as a distraction from its continued violence against the Palestinian people. By producing media that appears “feminist” in its message ( Toy has been described as having a “me too” message by multiple commentators ) Israel attempts to establish itself as a beacon of progressivism in the middle east, reinforcing orientalist stereotypes and establishing an image that is entirely false in doing so. Even if one was able to remove Toy from this context, the song remains incredibly problematic. Netta appropriates both Japanese and Black American cultures in the sound and styling of Toy. The lyrics and music were also written by two men-proving that even if it were to exist in some kind of magical post-colonial utopic vacuum, Toy would still be a shallow mockery of feminism. Also, the song sucks ass.

Though the above is important to critique, the critical discussion of Netta and Toy in the media and online has been overly focused on the problematic content of the song and not the context in which it was produced. In a weekend where over 58 Palestinians were murdered and over 2,800 injured by the IDF, critiquing Israel and its media campaign is easily the more important issue. The racism within the song should form a part of its critique, but should not be platformed above the more pressing issue of continued human rights violations of the part of Israel. Especially when criticism of the song within the media has been minimal: out of all of its coverage, SBS dedicated only one article to any level of criticism ( Israel’s Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai accused of cultural appropriation ) and it was lukewarm at best.

Eurovision pulling broadcasting rights from China this year, as well as its audiences booing Russia in 2014, as well as the fact that multiple political conflicts play out on its stage and in its voting prove that the show is anything but apolitical. This will be the fourth time that Eurovision is hosted in Israel, and the country has participated in the competition since 1973. The implications of Jerusalem hosting Eurovision are troubling, especially given the fact that Eurovision as an organisation is clearly willing to act on other situations it finds politically unsavoury.

Israel should never have won Eurovision. Toy is a terrible song, and it is unethical to host the song contest in a country that has been violently oppressing a whole nation of people for over 70 years. Regardless: how can Israel host Eurovision when it’s not even a real country?

This article appeared in the autonomous wom*n’s edition, Wom*n’s Honi 2018.