Op-ed: Day 219 of the war

When an Israeli showed inspirational courage in the singing of a pop song

Facing intense hostility at Eurovision, Eden Golan’s every instinct might have been to turn and run. Instead she soared, and set an example many Israelis may have to emulate in the months ahead

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Eden Golan of Israel enters the arena during the flag parade before the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Eden Golan of Israel enters the arena during the flag parade before the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The word “courage” and the singing of power pop ballads do not usually belong in the same sentence.

But Eden Golan demonstrated quite remarkable courage over the past few days at Eurovision — turning in a series of strikingly brave performances that, unfortunately, may require emulation by Israelis, in many fields, in the coming weeks, months and even years.

The 20-year-old singer, Israel’s representative at the Eurovision Song Contest, knew long before she flew into Malmo, Sweden, that almost every aspect of singing “Hurricane” was going to be atypically arduous, at the very least. (The competition, largely unfamiliar to North Americans, enjoys considerable resonance in an elastically defined “Europe” that also includes Australia.)

Concerted efforts were made to have Israel banned from the event for its war against Hamas in Gaza in the aftermath of October 7. The song itself had to be amended, its original lyrics deemed too political for its overt referencing of that blackest of days in modern Israeli history.

Hostility and concern for Golan’s physical security was such that the head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar, not known to be underemployed, flew in ahead of the contest to ensure that necessary protections were in place. Golan was largely confined to her hotel room and restricted access areas of the arena when not rehearsing and performing.

When she stepped out on stage, at every phase of the contest, she knew she would be facing hostility inside the hall, and would reasonably have been worried that something more dangerous than booing might be directed at her. Outside, both on the day of her semifinal and the final, thousands of people demonstrated to denounce her presence, despicably accuse Israel of genocide, and seek the elimination of her country. From the map, that is, not merely the competition.

Several of her fellow competitors also sought to have her and Israel banned, disparaged her, and dissociated from her. Several competing countries did much the same.

Throughout this ordeal, Golan maintained her self-composure — including under sometimes unpleasant questioning at press conferences.

Eden Golan arrives back at Ben Gurion Airport after the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, on May 12, 2024. (Alon Talmor)

Golan was partly in Malmo as an ambassador for Israel, and she carried out that role with admirable aplomb. Few, if any, Israeli officials and/or spokespeople would have done as well.

But Golan was primarily in Malmo to sing, and sing well, in a song contest. And that meant she was not allowed any of the giveaways that officials and spokespeople might be forgiven when facing the cameras amid hostility and pressure.

Performing before 15,000 people under the lights in a concert arena, with colossal numbers watching around the world, thoroughly aware of the waves of hatred rolling her way, knowing that her whole country was watching with a mix of support and acute trepidation, she could not allow the smallest misstep in her movements, could not afford the slightest tremble in her voice. She had to soar when every instinct might reasonably have been telling her to turn and run.

And soar she did.

She allowed the strain to show only when she left the stage, breaking into tears when her performance was over.

My colleague Amy Spiro has delved into the subsequent voting, and the extent to which that process was a reflection of the quality of the song and Golan’s delivery, rather than political attitudes to Israel. Whether she and Israel deserved to win the contest outright, rather than come in fifth, on the strength of “Hurricane” and her performance will doubtless long be the subject of debate. What is undeniable is that Israel would have finished a lot lower were it not for Golan’s poise and strength of character.

In Malmo on Saturday night, Eden Golan showed courage in the singing of a power pop ballad. And with Israel increasingly a pariah nation for the ostensible misconduct of its war against the amoral Hamas in the quagmire of Gaza, her performance will henceforth sadly need to serve as an inspirational example to Israelis at film festivals, academic conferences, international sporting competitions and so much more — or at least at those events where we unjustly reviled Israelis will still be tolerated at all.

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