Art and Entertainment

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Ariel Schalit/AP
Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, left, and Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad.

Arab-Jewish Eurovision Duo Sparks Indignation

February 23, 2009 10:31 AM
by Josh Katz
Israel’s Jewish-Arab duo for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has caused criticism; controversy is rare in the competition, famous for its quirky singing performances.

Jewish-Arab Team Headed to Eurovision

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Achinoam “Noa” Nini, a Jewish Israeli, and Mira Awad, an Arab citizen of Israel, are set to represent Israel in the Eurovision singing competition this May in Moscow.

Not everyone is thrilled about the duo, however. They are being criticized by groups ranging from “right-wing Israeli Jews to Palestinians and even Israeli peace campaigners,” according to Australia’s The Age.

Israel’s national broadcasting authority selected the two singers for the competition a day after Israel began its campaign against Gaza in December. Awad will be the first Arab to sing for Israel in the contest.

Arabs account for about one-fifth of Israel’s population of 7 million. According to the Associated Press, “They have equal rights under the law but face discrimination in government budgets and employment, and have poverty rates higher than those of the country’s Jews.”

A petition created by Israeli Arab artists directed toward Nini and Awad reads: “The Israeli government is sending the two of you to Moscow as part of its propaganda machine, which is trying to create the appearance of Jewish-Arab ‘coexistence’ under which it carries out the daily massacre of Palestinian civilians,” writes the AP.

The criticism has certainly had an effect on the duo. They cancelled a Gaza charity event at a nightclub in Tel Aviv after Nini was criticized by Israeli peace activists for calling Hamas a “cancer” and a “virus,” The Age writes.

Eurovision is known for its “flamboyant pop and unapologetic kitsch,” and it garners about 100 million viewers each year, making the controversy that much more out of place, according to AP. Eurovision is also a big hit in Israel, which boasted the winner of the competition in 1998: a transsexual named Dana International.

Reactions: Nini and Awad speak out

Nini, known professionally as Noa, is an Israeli who was raised in New York and has Yemenite roots. She has achieved international stardom. Awad grew up in Galilee, and now lives in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. She is now a well-known actress and singer in the region, and after appearing “in the country’s first Arabic sitcom aimed at Jewish viewers, a breathless profile in a Hebrew paper crowned her ‘the new Arab woman,’” according to the Associated Press.

“Some people will see an Arab girl who looks Jewish and a Jewish girl who looks Arab, which is what we are,” Nini said. “Maybe it will open some people’s minds.”

In a television interview last week, Awad said, “I’m for life. I want to live here and I want everyone to live here together. To live, not to die. I am sure there is a solution if everyone would just be honest,” according to The Age.

Background: Eurovision

The first Eurovision competition took place in 1956 with the intent of building cultural bridges in Europe after the destruction and divisions of World War II. It has been broadcast every year since, making it “one of the longest-running television programmes in the world,” according to the official Web site for the contest.

In 2008, 43 countries participated, including newcomers Azerbaijan and San Marino. Although the competition is not known for producing a large number of worldwide stars, Eurovision is responsible for making groups like ABBA and singers like Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias international sensations. The competition is also renowned for its outrageous outfits and bubblegum pop music.

A band or musician representing each country sings one song. This year, “professional juries in all participating countries will have 50% influence on the result. Televoters will deliver the other 50% of the outcome,” according to the Eurovision Web site.

Colombia sociology professor Duncan J. Watts described the politics of Eurovision in a New York Times article. Countries vote in blocs, they vote for their neighbors “and nobody votes for Britain,” Watts wrote. Covering the 2007 Eurovision competition, Watts observed that “[t]he Scandinavians all voted for one another; Lithuania gave 10 points to Latvia (whose entry, bizarrely, sang in Italian); former Warsaw Pact countries voted for Russia; and almost nobody voted for Britain (surprisingly, Ireland did—and, of course, Malta).”

Related Topics: War in Gaza; Israeli elections

Israel began a military operation against Hamas on Dec. 17, with the goal of halting rocket attacks into southern Israeli neighborhoods. As a result of Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, about 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 5,400 were wounded; 13 Israelis also died.

Leaders from the EU, the UN, Russia, Egypt and other nations condemned the Israeli strikes while calling for Hamas to stop the rocket attacks. Former U.S. President George W. Bush put the blame squarely on Hamas and demanded an end to its firing of rockets.

The war in Gaza probably weighed heavily on the minds of Israeli voters. The country’s Feb. 10 elections signaled a shift to the right; although the Kadima party and Tzipi Livni won the most seats in the Israeli Knesset, the collection of parties on the right earned more seats than those on the left did. The Labor party on the left fell to an unprecedented fourth place, behind Avidgor Lieberman and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party. It is still unclear who the next prime minister will be, as it all depends on coalition building.

Reference: Dana International

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