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  • Asher Stein

How Israel manipulated this antizionist Jew to vote for "Hurricane"

Despite my antizionist bent, that I still reacted strongly enough to Eden Golan’s performance to vote for Israel reveals how Jewish trauma is exploited to bulwark Zionism.


Asher Stein


This year I had my first Eurovision experience ever, and an experience it has been. I love jazz, blues, and classical music; I am naturally averse to pop. I am a diaspora Jew; I naturally detest nationalist spectacle. However, my peers urged me to approach the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) as a unique medium for viewing European relations, and it did not disappoint.


Public controversy this year mostly surrounded Israel. They are one of the ambivalent contenders ostensibly “outside” of Europe whose participation nonetheless challenges its boundaries. Indeed, Israel holds a large citizenry of former Europeans and their descendants. As someone quite eligible for membership to this citizenry, yet refusing to associate with the state, I have been roiling in a unique ambivalence ever since I first cried to Eden Golan’s music video.


Israel may have been in your news feed every day of the last seven months: the weeks surrounding the ESC have seen another Israeli refusal to a ceasefire draft and a renewed assault upon the starving masses concentrated in Rafah. There were many calls to exclude them this year: Eurovision’s is ostensibly organized to foster world peace (even though participants calling for it can be construed as a forbidden political statement), a value unshared by the Israeli government.

 

Golan was booed so hard the latest anti-boo software could barely suppress it, a performance which only made international perceptions of Israel worse (something which the state took advantage of regardless). Given the enormous difference in civilian suffering on each side of the border, it is difficult for an outsider to justify empathy with Israelis right now. 


But Jews are not allowed to be outsiders; by now almost all of us have Israeli family, after all. As much as I may criticize the state, its history, I am not able to despise its citizenry. And I cannot help but empathize with Eden Golan. Let me lay out my position on the structures which make this debate possible, to help explain why I compulsively spent a euro to vote for Israel.


Ethnicity, nation, and religion are often an individual’s primary identities, profoundly influencing how we are perceived by others (per Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory) on an interpersonal level, and thus indicating where we stand in a given social order. International students like me are used to the question “Where are you from?”, one that seems benign but indicates a fundamental dynamic in social identification. Much like race or gender, nation can tell you nothing real about a person’s character or life story. I have always squirmed under that question: I will answer ‘Polish-American,’ but I hardly identify myself with either country. Though I tend to hide it, my primary social identity is indeed Jew, something which carries far stronger connotations.


Obviously, being known to belong to a particular nation or ethnic group immediately invokes feelings of pity, solidarity, awe, or hatred; these too are mediations of power dynamics. Between me and Israelis, a nation to which my ethnicity is bound (whether I like it or not), all of these emotions exist. But they also exist between outsiders and me. When I reveal myself as a Jew, I can often watch people’s eyes burning with a second question: “What is your stance on Israel/Palestine?” Antisemites usually don’t care either way: just my name can inspire conflation with Israelis. Based on that experience, how can I deny the utility of antizionist signs to justify antisemitism? Jews are so often caught in these webs of ambivalence, knowing we always risk persecution 


I was not surprised by the vitriol expressed towards Israel’s performance; in this contest, Golan is a representative of her nation. This nation is certainly heterogeneous, holding particularly diverse and competing visions of what it should look like and what it should become; even the state is more divided than meets the eye. But that is an internal dynamic; a Eurovision performance represents each nation as a stable unit to the world.


The Israeli state knew this very well: Isaac Herzog directly pressured the songwriters of “October Rain” to wash out the political lyrics to assure their participation. This is a state bent on legitimizing itself on the international stage, even if that meant just being there. I too hoped Israel would be excluded from the ESC. But Golan was completely dehumanized here, turned into an empty symbol in the discourse. My brain can despise the politics, but my heart cannot quite despise her.


And worst for my heart of all, that web of conflation assures that she is also representing the Jewish people. Golan asserts her job was to “speak through the song to the world,” representing “everything we're feeling, and everything the country is going through, in those three minutes.” That is a message which blatantly seeks to bolster Israel’s image to the world.


Though the public can easily choose to reject this image, it is much harder for Jews to remove their empathy for Israelis. I couldn’t help but feel what they feel: the October 7th massacres stirred more than any event in my life the collective trauma and insecurity which defines Jewish identity. The state asserts that our healing can come only with retribution: this is the normative conflation, and it is made in violence. My own trauma is left an open wound, tied to the suffering of millions of Palestinians. They are trying to make trauma into a zero-sum game.


As Auschwitz survivor Hajo Mayer wrote, quoting Elie Wiesel, "’nothing should be compared to the Holocaust but everything must be related to it.’ This elevation has allowed it to be exploited for political ends.” And this has been a primary political strategy since Israel declared independence: trauma is weaponized to erase Palestinians, it has been made the fuel for its nationalism and its existence, and it probably doesn’t matter who specifically is in power. “October Rain” is just another instance of what Mayer called sequential traumatization. In his opinion, “we Jews should never, ever become like our tormentors - not even to save our lives.” That is exactly what the state of Israel has become; the Eurovision debacle is just another fight to justify itself, and Jews like me are again caught right in the middle.


I cannot help but identify with “October Rain,” the title I find far more honest. This was the strongest performance which Israeli Jews could have produced, and it still taps straight into that ambivalent pain. I wish I hadn’t seen it: my heart was manipulated to vote before my brain even knew what it was doing. One of the deepest feelings among Jews is bitter insecurity: we are only allowed legitimacy if we are tied to a nation, but that nation can only be made through violence. The choice is whether to justify the violence or to refuse its perpetuation, even if that means embracing that existential insecurity in the name of peace. 


My experience might indicate why Golan still had such a significant share of the public vote: it is difficult for a diaspora Jew to resist empathizing with her, no matter their orientation towards Zionism. Israel put her on stage to assert themselves upon the world and to assert themselves upon the Jews. It would’ve been better for everyone if they didn’t compete at all: Israelis (and Jews in turn) would be safe from even more international backlash and Eurovision could have flourished in its silliness. But they still did, and we still watched them do it. And all I’m left feeling is bitter and used.


Eurovision is primarily a play on nationalist fervor, and I obviously fell prey to it too. But it quite frequently transcends that: this ESC was also just as queer, funny, and melodramatic as my friends told me it would be. It is a fascinating stage for global social phenomena, for human expression beyond all borders. I was elated to see Nemo and Bambie Thug do so well, the first visible enbies at the top of the contest; I got more joy from their performances than any others, and I will feel more open with my own gender expression because of them. Eurovision will never be free of fiasco, but as long as it continues it will always show some of the sweetest things Europe has to offer.


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