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Eurovision diplomacy: Israeli Arab-Jew duo hope to show that peace is possible – at least on a stage

Israel's image abroad is a bit tattered. Can Eurovision come to the rescue?

By Correspondent / May 15, 2009

Noa (r.) and Mira Awad of Israel perform during dress rehearsals for the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow May 11, 2009.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters


Tel Aviv

With alto voices blending in rich harmony, Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad trade verses in Hebrew and Arabic and then end in the refrain, "There must be another way."

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Dressed in black, Israel's entry in the annual Eurovision song contest struck a note of peacnik earnestness Tuesday night at the annual American Idol-style pageant that prizes kitschy pop and stage shows heavy with pyrotechnics.

"The most politically correct act of the contest," declared the television host, who announced the Arab-Jewish singing duo had advanced to the final round Saturday night.

That was the feat many Israelis were probably hoping for. President Shimon Peres, in fact, said the Nini-Awad duet would be a chance for good publicity, given its venue on a stage that attracts hundreds of millions of European viewers.

"The fact is that both of them are performing together and singing for peace," said President Peres, a Nobel laureate.

Ms. Nini, a Jew with striking Yemeni features, is known by her stage name "Noa." The singer-songwriter has toured with Sting and Sheryl Crow and has composed music to complement James Bond's derring-do on screen.

Ms. Awad, who grew up in a Galilee village that lacked proper sewage treatment, is an actress/singer who won Israeli hearts with performances, including Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."

The lyrics on their coauthored song could be dismissed overly generic if divorced from the fact that they are Israel's first binational team to travel to Eurovision.

"Your eyes, sister / Say all that my heart desires," they sang in Hebrew at Tuesday's glitzy semi-finals, their deep voices blending in strong harmonies.

"We have a choice to continue this journey for as long as it takes, for there is no one address to sorrow," they continued in Arabic, ending with an English refrain: "There must be another way."

For many, however, the peaceniks' act strikes a note of dissonance at a time when the rest of the country has shifted to a harder line on peace talks.

The announcement of the duo's selection, which came during the recent three-week war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, stirred up criticism on both sides of the political spectrum.

Arabs attacked Awad for agreeing to represent Israel at a time the country was fighting Palestinians in Gaza. And while Awad represents a new generation of Israeli Arab artists who have won unprecedented acclaim among mainstream Israelis, her self-identification as a "Palestinian-Israeli" and her avoidance of state symbols have rankled right-wing Jews back home.

"It's not a problem if an Arab soccer player scores a goal for Israel's national team as long as he wears the state flag and sings the 'Ha'tikvah' with the rest of the players," Aryeh Eldad, a parliament member of the right-wing National Union party, said after Awad's selection was announced. "I can't stand an artist that represents Israel and uses a stage to spit into the well from where he drinks."

Eurovision as a stage for Israel to 'transmit messages'