September 22, 2018

This Girl Is On Fire

The evening that Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won Eurovision 2018, my son and I began to watch the biopic “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” the early life of the renowned African-Brazilian soccer player.

Pelé grew up poor in 1950s Brazil and faced continual racism from Europeans and lighter-skinned Brazilians. But from an early age, his parents taught him to face life with dignity: “Don’t feel doubt or shame,” his father tells him in the film. “Have the courage to embrace who you really are.”

Pelé revolutionized soccer for Brazilians — inspiring a pride in the country’s uniqueness. “We don’t all play the same,” says a coach in the film, “but that’s what makes us who we are.”

A similar message of embracing both excellence and difference can be felt in a video that my son, Alexander, and I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Angelica Hale, 9, won the “Golden Buzzer” on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” last year for her magnificent rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.”

I must confess: I’m not a watcher of talent shows. But I have personally found this video deeply inspiring, even more so after reading that Angelica, who is part Filipino, had to undergo a life-saving kidney transplant at age 4. Fearless and resolute, she both belted out and personified the lyrics:

“She’s got both feet on the ground;

And she’s burning it down.”

This is feminism, I told Alexander. A young girl can get up on stage and make a song even more layered and soulful than the original recording (sorry, Alicia). Moreover, achieving something great is far more empowering than playing the victim. Angelica, like Pelé, has no interest in being a victim. Both don’t want the world to feel sorry for them: They want the world to love them for their unique, outstanding gifts.

“I love my country,” she told an audience that has been taught to hate her country.

Somehow, 25-year-old Netta was able to combine all of these sentiments into a magical song, “Toy,” and performance that, despite itself, took Europe’s breath away.

“Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature;

I don’t care about your modern-day preachers.”

“Toy” is also a song about female empowerment, but perhaps even more, it’s about owning your individuality. “Thank you for choosing different, for accepting differences between us, for celebrating diversity,” Netta told the massive Eurovision audience in her acceptance speech.

But Netta clearly has no patience for the victimhood part of today’s #MeToo politics: “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy.” Nor does she have time for an identity politics that has no space for Jews. “I love my country,” she told an audience that has been taught to hate her country. “Next time, in Jerusalem.”

Whether the Europeans who voted for her got the deeper message is less important than the fact that they voted for Israel, despite every effort made by BDSers to prevent this. And Israel won by doing what Israel does best: bringing light into the world. Teaching the politically correct that individuality, creativity — inspiration — is not politically incorrect. That in fact, not becoming what others want us to be is our greatest strength.

Netta, like Pelé and Angelica, doesn’t want the world’s pity — or the world’s harassment. In fact, she included what could be construed as a word of warning for haters: “Wonder woman, don’t you ever forget; You’re divine and he’s about to regret.”

In the Pelé film, a Swedish coach calls the darker-skinned Brazilians “abnormal.” Israelis — Jews — have been called that and much worse. We don’t need to fabricate victimhood — but we also have no desire to wallow in it.

The Jewish people are not the world’s toy, to be taken out and abused when it’s having a bad day. “Have the courage to embrace who you really are,” Pelé’s father tells him in the film. It’s well past time that Jews did precisely that. Enough begging the left’s “social justice warriors” to include us.

Not surprisingly, these tolerant, compassionate folks were quick to try to shame Netta after she won, bizarrely calling her performance “cultural appropriation.” And some of Europe’s leftist pols saw Netta’s victory as a great opportunity to call for renewed boycotts against Israel. (So is “justice” their motivation — or jealousy? I get so confused with these compassionate types.)

Netta is not responding to the haters.  And why should she? She’s too busy “lighting up the night.” World, get used to it.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.