I still remember the shrieks of joy on Saturday night, May 12, in Jerusalem. I was at a friend’s house where there was a big party for the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem that would take place two days later. Many American Jews and pro-Israel Christians had come for the great celebration, and we were already, understandably, in a joyous mood.
Was that why everyone was screeching in the kitchen? Focused on a day we had waited for over a quarter century (and in many ways for 3,000 years) since the US Congress had passed legislation to move the embassy, it made perfect sense that people were singing at the top of their lungs.
But no, it was something else. Another event was taking place in Portugal, and most of Israel was focused on the far end of Europe on another startling moment for Israel, this one cultural.
Israel had won the Eurovision Song Contest, the world’s biggest contest for the performing arts. And although this was Israel’s fourth victory, in many ways it was the Jewish state’s sweetest victory.
Firstly, it was the first time the country had won in two decades, since Dana International was victorious with the song “Diva” in 1998. But back then there was no Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, no global effort to boycott Israel. Sure, the Arab countries were always trying to destroy Israel, either with military onslaughts or economic boycotts. But the rest of the world was not on board. But with BDS in the new millennium, man – especially in Europe – had joined the bandwagon. This was especially true when it came to the arts and live concerts.
Roger Waters and other hard-core antisemites launched a campaign to bully singers and artists to cease performing in Israel. Useful idiots like Natalie Portman, though born in Jerusalem, decided to join the boycott as well. Till today the pressure on artists not to perform in Israel is immense. When our organization, The World Values Network, published a full-page ad calling out the New Zealand singer Lorde for her bigotry in boycotting Israel, Waters mustered a letter signed by 100 top artists criticizing us and defending Lorde’s boycott.
Such is the support for BDS in the artistic community.
Then along came Netta Barzilai.
With a stunning victory and the unforgettable song, “Toy,” Netta dealt the BDS movement a catastrophic blow with her victory at the Eurovision. Now, not only would artists from all over Europe be coming to Israel for the 2019 competition, but the entire world would be watching Tel Aviv as Israel becomes the center of the world of the performing arts.
Talk about a turnaround. And it all stemmed from the brave performance of one 25-year-old woman.
It made perfect sense, therefore, that Netta would become a primary target for BDS and its antisemitic warriors. Netta was an especially rich target because of how incredibly proud she is as a Jewish and Israeli woman. There is no apology in Netta whatsoever for being a citizen of the world’s only Jewish state.
I watched Netta perform live in the United States and was overwhelmed by the verve and liveliness of her concert. It was unforgettable. I decided then and there that we had to host Netta in New York and at America’s foremost concert venue, Carnegie Hall.
Then came the news this past Saturday night that in a live performance in Paris a BDS troupe tried to humiliate Netta in front of all of France as she appeared as Eurovision champion. The protesters held disgusting, openly antisemitic signs, written in French (what else?), which read: “No to the Eurovision 2019 in Israel.” BDS France took credit for embarrassing the Israeli star on its Twitter page, using the hashtags “#DestinationApartheid” and also “#BoycottEurovision2019.”
The defense on the part of the French broadcaster, France 2, was, shall we say, less than robust. “Eurovision is, above all, entertainment on a unique international scale and open to great artistic diversity. Music, which has no borders, represents a universal ambition of dialogue between peoples, openness and living together.”
Huh? What does that gobbledygook even mean? Shouldn’t it have said something like, “We are incredibly proud that the reigning Eurovision champion, Netta Barzilai of Israel, graced us with her presence on our TV show, which was for French competitors to represent our country in Eurovision. We will brook no embarrassment of our esteemed guest, and we condemn those who sought to humiliate her. Netta, we apologize profusely for this disgusting display and want to make it clear that it in no way represents French hospitality.”
But no, they didn’t say that.
Which is why we in the global Jewish and pro-Israel community must rise to Netta’s defense. Netta Barzilai is an Israeli hero and should be championed as such.
On March 28 at Carnegie Hall, as part of our Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, we will present to Netta the “Light of Israel Award,” and she will perform live at Carnegie Hall. We will demonstrate to the world how proud the Jewish community is to have a champion of her caliber and for Israel to have such an impressive ambassador. In so doing, we will deal yet another blow to the antisemitic BDS movement, which seeks Israel’s economic destruction and the Jewish people reduced back to vassal status.
That will, of course, never happen. We are never going back to those dark days when Jews were subservient. Jews are no better than people and they are no worse. We demand equality, we will suffer no bigotry, we will accept no prejudice.
We are the chosen people, a light unto the nations. We have never understood this to mean any kind of superiority, but, rather, the divine responsibility to teach the world about the infinite worth of every individual, created equally in the image of the divine. The Jews were chosen to share with the world the Ten Commandments, a moral code by which we must all live, and whose guiding spirit is that there is a right and wrong in the world, moral ethics that govern human behavior.
And if there one thing we have learned is wrong, 70 years after the Holocaust, it is that calling on boycotts of Jews and the economic destruction of the Jewish people is a slippery slope that leads to horrors that beggar the imagination.
Netta, we thank you and celebrate you. You have given the world Jewish community so much joy and pride.
And while New York is not Jerusalem, it has a robust and proud Jewish community that cannot wait to host you as the Jewish champion of the entire world.
The writer, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.