Viewpoint: Don't underestimate the value of Netta Barzilai

How Netta Barzilai saved the Israel Broadcasting Corporation.

Netta Barzilai wows some 6,000 participants in a Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega Event at Jerusalem’s Sultan Pool on June 27, 2018 (photo credit: YOSSI GAMZO LATOVA)
Netta Barzilai wows some 6,000 participants in a Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega Event at Jerusalem’s Sultan Pool on June 27, 2018
(photo credit: YOSSI GAMZO LATOVA)
WHEN PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went so far as to emulate Netta Barzilai’s now iconic chicken dance, he came in for a lot of ridicule from the self-styled intelligentsia of the electronic and print media.
But if the culture snobs raised their eyebrows then, they all but blew up when Barzilai was chosen to walk along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard with Britain’s Prince William.
“That’s who represents Israeli culture?” lamented the highbrow culture vultures. In a radio interview after the stroll, Jonathan Weiss, the tour guide who accompanied the prince, said that Barzilai conducted herself admirably, and that it was amazing how much in-depth knowledge she had on many subjects, and how easily she switched from one topic to another.
But that wasn’t the reason for the restoration of the Queen of Hearts status that she had enjoyed in the first week after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
What put her in the good books of the intelligentsia was the fact that by winning Eurovision for Israel, she had saved the staff of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation from the dragged out trauma that most of them had experienced in their former and now defunct home the Israel Broadcasting Authority. There had been talk of splitting the IBC into two broadcasting entities – one devoted to news and the other to entertainment and culture.
But that would have disqualified Israel’s participation in the next contest and, worse still, would have put an end to any possibility of Israel hosting the next Eurovision contest.
The European Broadcasting Union insisted that only a comprehensive public broadcasting service that relayed both news and entertainment could enjoy membership in the EBU.
Non-members can’t compete in Eurovision.
For years Israel had contended that the judging of the contest was politically biased. But after Barzilai’s win during an era of increasing antisemitism, coupled with widespread BDS propaganda, that claim could no longer hold water.
Netanyahu, realizing that Barzilai had put Israel back on the map, wanted to make the most out of her victory, and therefore shelved the plan to split the IBC, thereby saving everyone’s jobs. The tense expressions on people’s faces, as the day of anticipated departure drew near, relaxed into smiles.
Several broadcasters had the grace to publicly voice their thanks to Barzilai.
Now what remains is to try to ensure that Eurovision will be broadcast from Jerusalem. Overcoming the international political hurdles involved may be easier than getting Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox population to leave well enough alone.
The ultra-Orthodox leadership has threatened to create havoc if the contest is held in Jerusalem, because preparations will entail desecration of the Sabbath.
Of course, if the venue was Teddy Stadium or the Arena, which are close to each other but distant from any ultra-Orthodox residential area, it would be a case of what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over.
The objections of the ultra-Orthodox to the probable violation of the Sabbath in the preparations on the day leading up to the contest are sheer hypocrisy. Radio and television operate on the Sabbath, so do taxi services, tourist buses, convenience stores, nightclubs and certain movie theaters. So what difference does it make if people engaged in the Eurovision project work on the Sabbath? If Eurovision is held in Jerusalem, the broadcast will bring the cradle of three great monotheistic faiths to the whole world, and may possibly trigger progress in the quest for peace.
The ultra-Orthodox don’t watch television anyway, and secular issues (other than trying to evade army service and defacing advertisements that feature images of women) don’t really interest or affect them. So there’s no need for them to stir the pot. Let them stay out of the kitchen and allow secular Israelis to cook up a spectacular Eurovision fiesta.
If everything goes with minimal hitches, let’s not forget to say thank you to Netta Barzilai, because without her, it couldn’t have happened.