Israel sending Eden Golan, 20, to represent it at Eurovision 2024 in Sweden

Surrounded by empty chairs, singer performs ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ as tribute to hostages, capturing win; many around the world have called to bar Israel from song contest

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

Eden Golan (Shai Franco)
Eden Golan (Shai Franco)

Israel on Tuesday selected Eden Golan, 20, from Tel Aviv, to represent the country at May’s Eurovision, as contest organizers continue to face widespread calls to bar the Jewish state from taking part amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

At the finale of a war-delayed and altered season of “Hakochav Haba” (Rising Star), Golan beat out finalists Or Cohen, Mika Moshe and Dor Shimon to take the top prize — competing on the grand stage in Malmo, Sweden, later this year.

For her grand finale song, Golan performed “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith, which she dedicated to all those longing for their loved ones to return home, including the hostages remaining in Gaza who were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. Wearing a yellow hostage pin, Golan performed surrounded by empty chairs on stage as a tribute to those missing.

“I want to stand in front of all of Europe and raise up our nation,” Golan said during the show. “I was born in Israel and I only feel truly at home here. There is nothing that would make me more excited in the world than to represent our nation this year at Eurovision.”

As a child, Golan lived in Russia with her family for 13 years, returning to Israel around two years ago. Her performances Tuesday night garnered her the top marks from both the judges and the audience voting at home.

“It’s a dream, in particular this year, when it has even more meaning,” Golan said following her win. “It’s to show the whole world who we really are, and to bring our country in three minutes to the stage, and to show our emotion and our strength and our people — that we are here, forever, together.”

The song for this year’s competition will be selected next month, and the Kan public broadcaster, which is responsible for Israel’s participation, said this year the song must include some Hebrew lyrics, “in light of the complicated period.”

As Israel faces criticism around the world over its ongoing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, some have called to bar the country from the competition, although the European Broadcasting Union, which runs the contest, has repeatedly stated that Israel will still be allowed to compete.

Calls have been notably strong in Iceland, Finland and Sweden, with some artists calling on their countries to pull out of the contest if Israel is not banned from the competition — something Sweden, as host nation, cannot do. So far, no countries have officially backed out of the contest over Israel’s participation.

While the contest is still months away, the Eurovision betting odds charts rank Israel in 5th place at the moment, a result largely believed to be buoyed by pockets of support for the nation, similar to how Ukraine won the contest in 2022.

Many of the popular Eurovision blogs have severely limited their coverage of Israel’s Eurovision selection process, unlike in years past, with some citing Hakochav Haba’s tributes to and inclusion of IDF soldiers in the show as being too political.

“Hakochav Haba” was slated to premiere in October, but was delayed until late November following Hamas’s October 7 massacre and subsequent war. Even among the contestants on the show, the losses were felt throughout the competition.

Shaul Greenglick, 26, who filmed his audition while on break from IDF reserve duty, in a clip that aired on December 3, later dropped out of the contest due to his ongoing military responsibilities. He was killed fighting in Gaza on December 26.

Cpt. (res.) Shaul Greenglick, 26, appears on the reality show ‘The Next Star’ on December 3, 2023. He was killed fighting in Gaza on December 25, 2023. (Screenshot from Keshet, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

During Tuesday’s live finale, Greenglick’s family members returned to sing a song in his memory and pay tribute to his love of music.

Last week Hakochav Haba also paid tribute to three young people who auditioned for the show just weeks before they were all slain at the Supernova music festival: Shani Gabay, Benayahu Biton and Dor Avitan.

The 2024 Eurovision will be held in Malmö, Sweden. There will be two semifinals on May 7 and 9, followed by the final on May 11. Israel will be competing in the second semi-final at its request, since the first would include a dress rehearsal on Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance day.

Golan won’t be the only Israeli on the Eurovision stage this year, as Luxembourg is sending Tali Golergant, an Israeli native who grew up in the European country, as its contender.

Screen capture from video of Israeli singer Tali Golergant’s nomination-winning performance in Luxembourg’s selection for an entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, 2024, January 27, 2024. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Last year, Kan decided to select the contestant internally, and sent famous pop star Noa Kirel to represent Israel at the competition, resulting in a third-place finish with her song “Unicorn.”

During Tuesday’s final, Kirel returned to the stage to perform a modern version of “Chai,” which Ofra Haza sang at the Eurovision in 1983 in Germany, which landed her in second place.

Israel has competed in the song contest since 1973, and has four wins under its belt: first in 1978 with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” by Yizhar Cohen; then a year later with “Hallelujah” by Gali Atari and Milk and Honey; again in 1998 with “Diva” by Dana International and most recently in 2018 with Netta Barzilai’s “Toy.”

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