MY WORD: Between Iran and the Eurovision

Netta’s song, with its utterly unquotable lyrics, doesn’t do justice to her voice and versatility.

CYPRUS’S ELENI FOUREIRA and Israel’s Netta react after the semi-finals for the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal, Tuesday. (photo credit: PEDRO NUNES/REUTERS)
CYPRUS’S ELENI FOUREIRA and Israel’s Netta react after the semi-finals for the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal, Tuesday.
(photo credit: PEDRO NUNES/REUTERS)
The clucking sounds emanating from radios and television sets late May 8 which garnered a lot of interest particularly in Israel were not made by commentators and experts discussing the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Iran deal. They were part of Netta Barzilai’s extraordinary performance in the Eurovision Song Contest semifinals in Lisbon. Whatever place Netta comes in the finals on May 12 (Israelis are now on first-name-only terms with the larger-than-life singer), the interest in her performance was its own form of victory.
Having detected unusual Iranian troop movements in Syria and ahead of strikes attributed to Israel on mixed Syrian-Iranian bases there, the IDF ordered that public shelters in the North be opened in case of an attack by the Islamic Republic or its proxies. There was also a limited call-up of IDF reservists. But Israeli social media divided attention and tension between the (thankfully not yet nuclear) fallout of Trump’s announcement and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran and the position of Netta’s song “Toy,” which until earlier in the day had ruled the roost as favorite in the Eurovision polls but was unexpectedly usurped by Cyprus.
Netta’s song, with its utterly unquotable lyrics, doesn’t do justice to her voice and versatility. On stage she comes across as supremely confident, although interviews make it clear that she didn’t always fit in and her popularity is newfound. Her message, “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy,” seemed to suit the evening. When she finished her three minutes in the spotlight, Israelis in the audience unfurled flags, eliciting from Netta a quintessential (and untranslatable) Hebrew endearment: “Kapara aleichem!”
Netta’s willingness to be herself has won over even those Israelis who stopped following the song contest 20 years ago, after Dana International gave the country its third Eurovision winner.
The fact that the BDS movement called on voters to boycott Netta because she had served in the Israeli military backfired, according to veteran journalist and avid Eurovision follower Yigal Ravid. Netta did her military service in the Israel Navy band – more troupe than troops. As Ravid noted, by pointing this out BDS was drawing attention to a less-known side of the military: the cooler side. Combined with Dana International being the country’s best-known transgender and proud patriot, you can’t really get a picture more different than that of Israel’s main enemies. I can’t see Iran under the current regime cheering its forces on in such a way.
The singling out of Netta is typical of the BDS movement. Is a similar song and dance made about Turkey, which has occupied northern Cyprus for decades?
Incidentally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 8 popped over to Cyprus for a trilateral summit with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the fourth meeting between the three leaders in the last two-and-a-half years. Although the leaders focused on energy and the economy, they also discussed Syria and Iran and other regional issues – another sign of the times.
THE FACT that the attention of the average Israeli was torn between something as glittering yet fleeting as a Eurovision performance and the deadly serious implications of the US withdrawal from the Iran deal is not coincidental.
Although Israel readied for a possible retaliation by Iran, it was certainly not alone. It would be a mistake – a grave one – to turn the Iran nuclear threat into an Israeli issue, or Israeli-American matter. That’s one of the initial faults of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), between Iran and the six powers (the US, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany), led by the Obama administration and then-secretary of state John Kerry.
Just as Europe didn’t understand the threat of Sunni jihadists like ISIS until they hit devastatingly close to home, so the European leaders seem to miss the dangers of emboldening Iran and providing it with the funds it supplies terrorist movements. Saudi Arabia, suffering from Iranian-funded rocket attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen, sees the fuller picture. The Iranian regime might reserve most of its flag burning and threats for Israel and the US, but its venom is not aimed at them alone.
The European powers that signed the agreement seem to be putting their business interests over their best interests. When EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini comes out in favor of Iran over the US, she is putting much more than just the Middle East at risk.
North Korea is watching and learning from Trump’s moves, and the world’s response.
The recent combined effort by the US, UK and France on Syria after Bashar Assad again unleashed chemical warfare on his own citizens shows that there is a chance for a united campaign to set limits.
The alternative to the flawed nuclear deal need not be war. Sanctions can be used to push Iran into understanding that it is the weaker side of the agreement. Instead, Europe prefers to follow up its appeasement diplomacy with financial benefits.
The meeting this week between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, ostensibly to mark the victory over Nazi Germany, shows that both Israel and Russia are willing to be pragmatic.
Israelis would far rather watch the Eurovision in peace, or just get on with their daily lives, than be dragged into another war. Israel is not leading the US into another conflict. It is European concessions to Iran that could take us all there. When countries can say they knew Iran was lying about its nuclear program when they signed the agreement, and don’t see why that is a problem, then making the deal is idiocy, not diplomacy.
In a conference call this week sponsored by The Israel Project, Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser, said that Israel wants to prevent Iran from building a war machine in Syria before it’s too late.
“We made a huge mistake in Lebanon,” he said. “We let Hezbollah get 120,000 rockets and missiles. We are not going to make that same mistake in Syria.”
The reported Israeli strikes on Iranian bases and factories should be seen in this light. When Iran used a base in southern Syria to launch an explosive-laden drone on northern Israel, Israel had no choice but to respond and show that not just a border but a red line had been crossed. Similarly, Israel had to react to the Iranian rockets launched at the Golan Heights this week.
Iran has already extended its influence and created a presence in a new crescent from Lebanon to Yemen via Syria, Iraq and parts of the Gulf states. The Iranian regime is a menace to the world. This is not an Israeli issue but a global one.
Earlier this month, a proud father (unaware of field security regulations), posted a video of his daughter and fellow soldiers graduating from an elite IDF language program. The clip that went viral showed them singing a traditional Persian love song in Farsi. There won’t be peace until Iranian and Israeli singers can share a stage. That can’t happen if the world prefers to remain silent on Iranian aggression, or even applaud and reward it. Iran must be forced to face the music and change its tune.