Eurovision or Tunnel Vision?

After a win in last’s year’s Eurovision, Israel became the host of Eurovision 2019. While most host countries see unprecedented unity in the worldwide event that boasts over 190 million viewers worldwide, hosting it in Israel has presented many challenges and national unity is not as one may expect.

Image result for eurovision 2019

Aside from all the BDS hype, where avid boycotters have been pushing performers not to participate in Eurovision at all, Israel has had to deal with various social, political, and religious factions that all have a different opinion of how to host such an event–all on top of Hamas sending 700+ rockets into Israel as thousands of would-be Eurovision visitors had to rethink their plans just before the big event.

What, for our purposes, is perhaps the most interesting angle of the various Eurovision 2019 realities is the apparent conflict between a global culture and local customs. Eurovision is a grand event that allows the world to unite over a common cause that supersedes all differences of race, religion, and even language: music. However this year, the determination to push a global culture has ironically completely overlooked local sensitives. The week of music competition in Tel Aviv leads up to the “grand finale” on Saturday. This is perhaps the best day for 190 million viewers to take some free time to watch the event, however in the host country, Israel, Saturday (technically Friday sundown to Saturday stars out) is the Sabbath, Shabbos, or “day of rest.” This has posed numerous issues, not just for the would-be attendees and even performers (such as the very popular Israeli band Shalva which was unable to compete after requesting to push the mandatory Saturday performance to be before or after the Sabbath).

On top of this, even the weekday performances take place during the ominous “Sefiras ha Omer” period of Jewish mourning where many traditional and religious Israelis observe the Jewish law not to listen to music during a 33 day period of mourning.

Additionally, the Israeli status-quo, which forbids work on this holy day, and only issues special work permits for life-saving or otherwise vital services, somehow got steam-rolled by the Eurovision cultural committee and was forced to issue an unprecedented number of Shabbat work permits (30,000) for workers to violate the Sabbath in order to prepare for the Eurovision performances. This has greatly offended hundreds of thousands of Israelis, which saw demonstrations around the country and left an awkward atmosphere in the country for the events.

The irony is of course that in the quest for global unity and providing an opportunity for the contest’s host country to showcase the beauty of its people and culture, somehow Eurovision 2019 seems to have become Tunnel Vision 2019 and neglected 3,000-year-old rites for the sake of sticking to a logistical and programming status quo (the “grand finale” must always take place on Saturdays). 

While everyone may have their own opinion of the events we can all certainly learn from this event the importance of understanding the local culture and people that you are dealing with, and how many grandiose events may be well and good but if you completely disregard the cultural norms of the people you are working with, you could do more harm than good. The nearly-200 million worldwide viewers may not have noticed the deeper realities behind the flashing lights and fanfare, but beneath the surface, the events have exacerbated an already divided nation. 

The lesson here seems clear. In our increasingly global and inter-connected world, with an increasingly unified global outlook on social norms and values, we must nonetheless never assume that our way is the only way (or “the best way”) and we must humble ourselves to the idea that perhaps other countries, cultures, or people have different values and norms from our own. We may not understand or agree with their norms but we should take pains to identify and validate those values if we ever wish to bridge the gap and truly break down cultural barriers, particularly when it is we who are the guests in their home.

At GLN we have been offering 13+ years of culturally-sensitive language classes that not only help the learners understand the local culture and people, but we help our students gain confidence in the language itself and bring the language to life inside and outside the classroom. Our mission of “using language as a tool to help fix our world” recognizes that everyone needs communication to improve personal and professional relationships and only through better communication and understanding can we make the world a better place.

Be sure to sign up for one of our 60+ summer classes; perhaps you may be promoted to lead the cultural team for Eurovision 2020 and will fix the failures of Eurovision 2019.

[Submitted by Andrew Brown, President, The Global Language Network]

2 Responses to "Eurovision or Tunnel Vision?"

  1. Johnny

    You bring up some interesting and valid points, but this is not the first time that Israel has won Eurovision and subsequently hosted the contest. No one forces any country to participate or host the event in case it wins. After having won the contest four times, they have to have been aware of the rules if they planned on hosting the event. I’m not saying that I disagree with you; I certainly think cultural sensitivity is called for and the Eurovision governing body should be aware of the more negative aspects to its rules. But, as I said, Israel could have refused to host the event.

    • The Global Language Network (GLN)

      Hi Johnny,
      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. I did not wish to portray that Israel as a whole was against hosting the event. Many have claimed it was a great success and source of pride. However, as mentioned, it deeply offended hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of traditional and religious people. That is correct that Israel has hosted it in the past and the acting Israeli Broadcasting Corporation director-general at that time saw the Shabbat desecration situation as a “national crisis.” In 1999 the event was hosted in Jerusalem and the Shabbat desecration was not disclosed, surprising traditional and religious residents last minute. This time it was known well in advance (likely from the past failures) and hence various entities petitioned to move the day/timing of the events as well as the location. It seems the European Broadcasting Union has a history of being stubborn and culturally-insensitive. -Andrew

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