JERUSALEM — A song referencing the #MeToo movement replete with chicken sounds won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel on Saturday night, kicking off a euphoric, if somewhat tense, week for Israel and the region.
Netta Barzilai, a flamboyantly dressed singer whose instrument of choice is an electronic looper, was among the favorites to win the annual contest, a chintzy display of musical acts from more than 40 countries in Europe and beyond. The winner is decided in a live public vote.
As the results became clear, thousands of Israelis took to the streets in celebration, and multiple political leaders used social media to declare their profound admiration for the young singer.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted an untranslatable Hebrew slang endearment to Barzilai and wrote “Next Year in Jerusalem” — a play on the saying declared at the end of the Passover meal and the fact the Eurovision will take place in the city next year.
Netanyahu referenced Barzilai again in a speech Sunday morning, saying: “These days Jerusalem is blessed with many gifts. We got another one last night with Netta’s brilliant and explosive victory.”
He was speaking at an inaugural event marking Jerusalem Day, an annual celebration of the reunification of the Holy City under Israeli sovereignty following the country's victory in the six-day war in 1967.
The other gift Netanyahu was referring to is the controversial move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that will take place Monday. Announced by President Trump in December, the move upended a decades-old U.S. policy of refraining from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s sovereign capital until peace is reached between Israelis and Palestinians.
The move has alienated Palestinians, who see it as step away from peace and the chance for them to create an independent state alongside Israel, also with Jerusalem as its capital.
“This embassy move is not only illegal but will also thwart the achievement of a just and lasting peace between two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 borders, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement last week.
Tensions in the city will be further heightened this week as Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” a term used for the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians seven decades ago upon Israel’s creation.
Usually observed on May 15, Palestinian leaders have called for wider protests over frustrations at the U.S. Embassy move, as well as the stagnation of the peace process and the increasingly dire living conditions in Gaza.
Mass demonstrations are planned in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, where weekly protests along the border fence with Israel have left more than 40 people dead and thousands wounded from Israeli sniper fire.
“No doubt this is one of the most intensive weeks in terms of security concerns,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
He said security forces in Jerusalem were on high alert because of the embassy event but also because of the annual Jerusalem Day march, which includes a nationalistic parade Sunday through Arab neighborhoods in the city, Nakba Day events and, later in the week, the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The unrest also reached Lisbon, the site of this weekend’s Eurovision competition, where Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists called on the public not to vote for Israel’s entrant because of the country's continuing treatment and policies toward Palestinians.
But Barzilai's catchy song, “Toy,” a direct jab at the objectification of women and link to the #MeToo movement, stole the night, drawing 529 points and beating out Cyprus, another favorite, to win.
“It’s so fun that you chose something different. It’s so fun that we managed to reach so many hearts. Its so fun that we managed to challenge stereotypes. It’s so fun that we got it and we deserve it,” she said in her acceptance speech.
This is Israel's fourth time winning the Eurovision Song Contest, now in its 63rd year. The last time it won was in 1998.