Israel says it will edit song lyrics to avoid being disqualified from Eurovision

Reworked song, titled ‘Hurricane,’ slated to be revealed next week, still needs approval of EBU; Iceland decides against sending Palestinian singer to represent it

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Eden Golan, winner of the reality show 'Hakochav Haba' (Rising Star) on February 6, 2024. (Koko/Flash90)
Eden Golan, winner of the reality show 'Hakochav Haba' (Rising Star) on February 6, 2024. (Koko/Flash90)

Israel announced on Sunday that it will agree to edit the lyrics of its Eurovision song submission to ensure that it can take part in this year’s song contest — having already faced boycott calls regardless of which song it chooses.

The statement from the Kan public broadcaster comes after Israel’s participation was thrown into question when the European Broadcasting Union, which runs the annual competition, disqualified its submission for being too political. Kan had originally stated that it would refuse to alter or swap the song it had submitted.

On Sunday, however, Kan said that it has revisited the matter, accepting instead the position of President Isaac Herzog, that “particularly at a time when those who hate us are trying to push us out and boycott the State of Israel on every stage, Israel must have its voice heard with its head raised high and fly its flag in every global forum, particularly this year.”

For months, some activists have called for Israel to be barred from the competition amid growing international criticism of its war against Hamas in Gaza, although the EBU has repeatedly rejected such calls and said it would be allowed to compete.

Kan said Sunday that it reached out to the writers of the two top songs, “October Rain” and “Dance Forever,” and asked them to “readjust the texts, with full artistic freedom,” so it can then choose one to send to the EBU for approval. Whichever song is chosen will be performed by Eden Golan at the competition.

Later Sunday, Kan said that it would be submitting a new song, titled “Hurricane” and based on the melody of “October Rain,” but with all new lyrics, which are about a “young woman surviving a personal crisis.” Kan noted that the song will still need the approval of the EBU, but if the song is once again rejected it can appeal the decision.

Noa Kirel of Israel during the flag ceremony during the Grand Finale of the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, England, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

“This is a different and distinct year, and we are dealing with things we did not deal with in past years,” Golan said in a statement. “It is more important to me than ever to represent my country with pride and if that happens, I will work as hard as possible to know that I did everything I could do.”

The original lyrics for “October Rain,” Kan’s top choice for this year — which the broadcaster took the unusual step of publishing in full last month — included lines reading “writers of the history/ stand with me”; “I’m still wet from the October rain/ October rain” and a final section in Hebrew translated to: “There is no air left to breathe/ No place, no me from day to day/ They were all good kids, every one of them.”

The second song in contention, “Dance Forever,” reportedly includes the lyrics “Oh, dance like an angel/ Oh, you will remember/ That I will dance forever/ I will dance again” as well as “I spread out my wings/ flying through the sky/ Hear violins/ Angels don’t cry/ they only sing.”

Responding to a request for comment, the EBU told The Times of Israel over the weekend only that “the EBU and Kan are still in the process of discussing their entry and that remains a confidential process until a final decision has been reached.”

Kan said Sunday that the song it will be sending to the competition this year will be announced during a live broadcast on March 10.

Even if the song is approved, Golan is widely expected to face protests and boos as she takes part in the global song contest, which is being held May 7-9 in Malmo after Sweden won last year’s competition in Liverpool.

The announcement from Israel’s public broadcaster comes less than a day after Iceland’s much-watched Songvakeppnin song contest selected Hera Bjork as its Eurovision contestant this year, passing over Jerusalem-born Palestinian singer Bashar Murad, who had been seen as the frontrunner in a country that had been leading the call for Israel to be banned.

Palestinian singer Bashar Murad performs at the Iceland Songvakeppnin final on March 2, 2024. (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Some Eurovision observers have speculated that Icelandic voters did not want to face similar issues with political disqualification, or that some may have been turned off by his dedication of the song to the Palestinians rather than to Iceland, the country he was supposed to represent. Murad’s connection to Iceland was born out of the 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv, when he met the country’s representative, the band Hatari, and recorded a joint Icelandic-Arabic song with them. Iceland’s national broadcaster was reprimanded and fined after the band members waved a Palestinian flag during the live grand finale.

Many in Iceland have said that the winner of Songvakeppnin should back out of the contest if Israel is allowed to take part, but Bjork said in interviews before her win that she would compete regardless. Similar calls also echoed in Finland, which later said that it too will still take part in the contest.

While Murad’s expected selection had pushed Iceland up the betting charts, the choice to send Bjork, who also represented Iceland at Eurovision in 2010, is likely to send it back down. Iceland has never won the Eurovision in its 35 years of competing.

Israel has won the competition four times — in 1978, 1979, 1998 and most recently in 2018 with Netta Barzilai’s “Toy.”

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