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?
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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.
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.
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'