Israel-Hamas war live: hostage talks planned for Paris on Friday

Israel-Hamas war live: hostage talks planned for Paris on Friday

A song called “October Rain” could simply be a ballad about the gloomy fall weather. But in the tense atmosphere that followed the attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel on October 7, the title could also express a lament over this tragedy, or a call to come together to stand firm against terrorism.

This week, the meaning of “October Rain” – a song very few people have heard – became a controversial question when newspapers in Israel reported that a song with that name had been chosen to represent the country in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Although initial reports gave few details about the song, they sparked an outcry on social media. A few Eurovision fans complained that the song was clearly referring to October 7 and should not be allowed in the non-political event in which pop stars, representing countries, compete against each other every May.

Since Eurovision’s launch in 1956, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, has banned songs that make political statements, insisting that the competition should unify rather than divide. Each year, union veterans suggest words to ensure they do not undermine this principle. Although Israel is not part of Europe, its broadcaster is a member of the European Broadcasting Union, making the country eligible to participate in Eurovision.

On Wednesday, the news division of Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster, reported that the organization had started discussions with the European Broadcasting Union on the relevance of “October Rain”. If the union refused to approve the track, the report speculated, Israel would not offer an alternative and would therefore be excluded from the competition.

Miki Zohar, the country’s culture minister, said in a post on On Wednesday, it would be “scandalous” if the song was not allowed to compete.

In a letter sent Thursday to the European Broadcasting Union, seen by The New York Times, Zohar made the case for “October Rain.” It was “a moving song, speaking of regeneration and rebirth,” he wrote. And while it reflects “current public opinion in Israel these days,” he said, that doesn’t make it “a political song.” (A spokesperson for the minister said Zohar had not heard the “confidential” song, but had seen “a large part” of its lyrics.)

A spokeswoman for the European Broadcasting Union said in an email Thursday that it was “currently reviewing the lyrics,” as it does for all proposed Eurovision tracks. “If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, then broadcasters have the opportunity to submit a new song or lyrics,” the spokesperson added.

Even before this week’s uproar, Israel’s participation in this year’s Eurovision, to be held in Malmö, Sweden, had cast a shadow over the event. As the death toll from Israel’s military offensive in Gaza rises, hundreds of musicians from countries including Sweden, Denmark and Iceland have signed petitions urging the European Broadcasting Union to ban Israel, following a similar decision in 2022 to ban Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

The European Broadcasting Union has repeatedly rejected the comparison between Israel and Russia. “We understand the deeply held concerns and opinions around the current conflict in the Middle East,” the union said in a statement this month, but Eurovision was “not a competition between governments.”

At this year’s Eurovision, Israel will be represented by Eden Golan, a 20-year-old pop singer who was selected earlier this month when she won a TV show called “Rising Star”, performing a cover of ‘Aerosmith. During the finale of that show, Golan referred to the approximately 130 hostages that Israel believes Hamas is holding in Gaza. “Everything will only really be okay when everyone goes home,” she said.

However, which song Golan will sing at Eurovision doesn’t just depend on her. Kan has been evaluating potential tracks, and although he submitted “October Rain” for approval, the network is not expected to officially announce the Israeli song until March 10, giving him time to modify it, if necessary.

Throughout Eurovision’s history, the European Broadcasting Union has sometimes intervened when it detected political overtones in proposed entries, said Chris West, the author of A History of Eurovision . In 2009, he said, Georgia withdrawn from competition because the organizers objected to a song called “We don’t want to put.” The song was seen as a statement against Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, West said.

And in 2015, Armenia changed the title of its entry to “Do Not Deny,” as it was widely interpreted as a reference to Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. The song was renamed “Face the Shadow,” West said.

“October Rain” seems political because of its title, West said, but Israel could argue that it has nothing to do with last year’s attacks, or even that the country has the right to sing the impact of Hamas atrocities.

“Eurovision organizers have a very difficult task in deciding where the line is,” West said.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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