Israel should have a voice at Eurovision, says president amid row over lyrics

<span>Israel’s entry to the song contest, October Rain, performed by Eden Golan, is under scrutiny for allegedly referencing the Hamas attacks.</span><span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Israel’s entry to the song contest, October Rain, performed by Eden Golan, is under scrutiny for allegedly referencing the Hamas attacks.Photograph: Reuters

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, wants to ensure the country competes in the Eurovision song contest after the event’s organisers said they were examining whether the lyrics sung by the Israeli contestant were too political.

“I think it’s important for Israel to appear in Eurovision, and this is also a statement because there are haters who try to drive us off every stage,” Herzog said on Sunday, the Times of Israel reported. “Being smart is not just being right,” he added.

Israel last week threatened to withdraw from the contest if its organisers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), rejected the lyrics to October Rain, performed by Eden Golan, which have been claimed to reference the 7 October Hamas attacks.

According to the Israel Hayom newspaper, lines in the song include, “There’s no air left to breathe”, and “They were all good children, each one of them”. The song also refers to “flowers”, which the newspaper said was a military code for war fatalities.

The EBU, which has said it is “scrutinising” the lyrics, describes the contest, which will be held in May in Malmö, Sweden,as non-political. Under the rules, contestants may submit a new song, or new lyrics, if they are deemed to have infringed that rule.

The organisation has already rejected calls for Israel to be removed from the event altogether over the war in Gaza, saying it had conducted a review and decided the country could participate. News that its song could be banned has prompted outrage.

Israel’s culture and sports minister, Miki Zohar, called the prospect “scandalous”. Golan’s song was “moving”, he wrote on social media, and “expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political”.

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena,” he said. “I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Hamas’s attack on 7 October killed about 1,200 people. More than 250 hostages were also taken, with 130 still held in Gaza, although about 30 are believed to be dead, Israel has said.

Israel’s military response has killed 29,692 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel’s national broadcaster Kan, which sponsors the Israeli entry, confirmed to Reuters last week that the leaked lyrics were accurate and said it was “in dialogue” with the EBU about the issue. Final entries must be decided by 11 March.

The broadcaster said there was “no intention to replace the song”, meaning that “if it is not approved by the EBU, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition”. Israel has won the competition four times, most notably with transgender singer Dana International in 1998.