Miriam Shaviv
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The song Eurovision doesn't want you to hear
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2007
Publication: The National Post

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Although Israel is not, strictly speaking, in Europe, it has always been a point of pride that it is included in the Eurovision Song Contest -- a sort of "European Idol" in which each contestant represents a different country, and which has been watched, for more than 50 years, by as many as 600-million people worldwide.

This year, however, the organizers are threatening to throw Israel out of the competition, claiming its entry is too overtly political and that its "inappropriate" message risked "bringing the contest into disrepute."

The song in question, Push The Button, is a protest against the dangers of nuclear war. That the Eurovision management could even consider disqualifying it shows just how far to the left the European political climate has swung, as well as how uncomfortable Europeans are with the idea of Israelis as victims.

The song's lyrics are, admittedly, jarring in a competition usually known for the blandness of its entries: "The world is full of terror, if someone makes an error, he's gonna blow us up to kingdom come?There are some crazy rulers, they hide and try to fool us, with demonic, technologic willingness to harm. They're gonna push the button, push the button ? I don't wanna die, I wanna see the flowers bloom, don't wanna go kaput-kaboom."

According to the band, Teapacks -- one of Israel's most popular and original groups -- the rap-punk-ska song is about "humanity," and "could be about the violence on the streets of England." But it has been interpreted, almost universally, as referring either to Iran's threats to "wipe Israel off the map" with nuclear technology or to the Palestinian Kassam rockets which fall on the Israeli town of Sderot, home to the band's lead singer, Kobi Oz.

Israeli bloggers, commenting in the wake of the furor, have said that the song goes to the heart of their fears about living in a country in which total annihilation is a real possibility.

All this, however, is apparently too hard for delicate European ears to hear. Organizers are citing Eurovision guidelines, which do not allow songs with political messages. However, this rule has been disregarded many times, including recently. Just two years ago, Greenjolly represented the Ukraine with the anthem of the Orange Revolution. Further back, in 1982, a Finnish band entered with a song against the neutron bomb and was allowed to compete (although it did come last). And in 2000, the Israeli entrants themselves waved the Syrian flag during a rehearsal to promote an Israeli-Syrian peace deal. (This was too much for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which disassociated itself from the group, Ping Pong, but the Eurovision organizers didn't seem to mind; they allowed the band to make the same gesture on-stage during the live competition.)

What makes Push The Button any different? Clearly it's not the inclusion of a political message -- it's this particular political message the organizers find objectionable.

Back during the Cold War, being against nuclear war was a given, and any song on that subject would be a matter of consensus. It is hard to say that today, Europeans are pronuclear war. But when it comes to the one country which could conceivably start one -- Iran -- they are simply apathetic. Despite the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to their own cities, they have allowed negotiations to drag out, stalled on imposing sanctions and let Iran come close to the nuclear "point of no-return."

On a continent where the Muslim population is growing and leaders are caught up dealing with internal economic and social malaise, it is easier to live in denial. Push The Button is an uncomfortable, unwelcome reminder of what's at stake.

Moreover, although the song is deliberately vague about which conflict it is talking about, almost everyone who hears it assumes it is about Israelis as victims and Muslims -- Iranian or Palestinian -- as aggressors. This is not the relationship as most Europeans see it. Indeed, Europeans rarely think about Israeli suffering and go to great lengths to explain away Iranian and Palestinian violence and threats. Apparently being forced to see the situation the other way round is distasteful and "inappropriate."

This week, the event organizers were due to discuss whether to implement the ban against the Israeli entry when the competition takes place in Helsinki in May. But Teapacks' members remain unperturbed. "We are not working to make nice to everyone," Kobi Oz told the UK's Independent newspaper. "Real art provokes responses and provokes people into arguing."

And that is what the Eurovision organizers are scared of.

- Miriam Shaviv is the comment editor of the Jewish Chronicle in the UK.

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