'Israel deserves a reason to celebrate... I love my country'

Eurovision winner Barzilai jubilant: ‘How great we got to change Israel’s image’

‘I’m proud and honored to bring this magical event to Israel next year,’ says singer, as thousands take to the streets to celebrate back home

Jubilant but utterly self-possessed, Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai told a press conference in Lisbon Saturday night that she was delighted her victory had helped change Israel’s image.

Minutes after winning the contest with her song “Toy,” and after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called her to tell her she was Israel’s “best ambassador,” Barzilai enthused to the international media that their choice of her and her song — with its themes of female empowerment — was a victory for diversity and difference. “I’m not your toy. You stupid boy. I’ll take you down now,” run the lyrics.

What was her message, she was asked? “I don’t think I have to say much after what happened tonight. After a majority chose me,” she said. “This is the greatest thing happening to people — choosing something different. Choosing something that’s evolved. Choosing 2018.”

Barzilai, 25, won the contest in good part on the strength of viewers’ votes in the participating countries, which lifted her above Cyprus and Austria into first place after the juries had voted.

Netta Barzilai from Israel performs “Toy” after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Israel’s Kan TV, which broadcast the contest and the press conference, used a split screen to show Barzilai speaking to the press and thousands of Israelis celebrating her victory in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, including jumping into a fountain. “I’m proud and honored to bring this magical event to Israel next year,” she said, as some in the press conference began singing “Hava Nagila.”

“How great is it that we won the Eurovision,” she said, answering a question in Hebrew. “How great that we got to change the image [of Israel]… We deserve it.”

“Israel deserves a reason to celebrate,” she repeated to an Israeli TV interviewer later. “I love my country.”

Filming at the Tel Aviv celebrations, an Israel TV presenter hailed Barzilai’s victory as “a triumph over BDS,” after Boycott Israel campaigners had distributed leaflets and campaigned for countries not to vote for Israel.

Israeli revelers at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv early on May 13, 2018, celebrating Netta Barzilai’s Eurovision Song Contest victory. ( Screen capture: YouTube)

Barzilai told the press conference that her victory was “a little hard to take in,” but that she had not been nervous about her chances. “Authenticity passes through,” she said, stressing, “Everybody gave an amazing performance tonight… And somebody had to win.”

Asked a question about being a gay icon, Barzilai said: “Some of my team that takes care of me and holds me up through some hard times are part of the [LGBT] community ,and I am nothing without them.”

She promised: “I will be at the next pride [parade] in Tel Aviv… You better come to Tel Aviv.”

“I celebrate myself no matter what my size is,” Barzilai went on to say. “I just have to be me… I just want to create music… edgy stuff… break the box every time… I will keep competing with myself until I die.”

She also praised the Israeli fans “who flew out and supported us.” She said there is “nothing like an Israeli party. You have no idea. You will find out next year.”

Netta Barzilai from Israel performs her winning song “Toy” after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

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