Israel fails to qualify for Eurovision finals

Israel failed to advance to the Eurovision Song Competition final for the second consecutive year.

The eclectic band Izabo performed the song “Time” on Tuesday in the first semifinal of the competition, held this year in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Israeli Broadcasting Authority had unilaterally selected the band in February to represent Israel in the competition.

It marked the first time since the semifinal round was introduced in 2004 that Israel failed in back-to-back years to advance to the finals.

Israel has produced two top 10 finishers in the past eight years: Shiri Maimon in 2005 and Boaz Ma’uda in 2008. Both were contestants on “Kokhav Nolad,” Israel’s equivalent of “American Idol.”

Last year, in a process that heavily weighted public voting, 1998 Eurovision champion Dana International received overwhelming viewer support and won the right to represent Israel. Nevertheless, the transsexual singer failed to impress Eurovision voters with her 2011 entry, “Ding Dong.”

Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion

Turkey’s Jews are pleased as can be that for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at the Eurovision song contest.

But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment – at least not the Jewish part.

“We would like to inform that Mr. Can Bonomo is bound to refuse answering all the questions about his religious beliefs, anti-Semitism and political subjects,” Bonomo’s spokesman, Ece Kahraman, wrote in a statement to JTA.

Bonomo has taken pains to tell fans that he will be participating in Eurovision as a Turk, not as a Jew.

“My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the “Aksam” news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

Prior to his appearance on “Aksam,” radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons.

The way in which the anchor framed her question in the interview probably didn’t put him at ease.

“People might say you were chosen because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with Israeli lobby groups,” she said. “I would like to get your comments.”

The intimation that the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp., which makes the Eurovision selection, would kowtow to pro-Israel groups seems a little bizarre with Turkey’s moderate Islamist government doing its best to distance itself from Israel. One of the string of crises that fueled the current tensions between the two countries, in fact, was the broadcast in 2010 on state-run TV of a drama series that portrayed Israelis as harvesting organs from Iraqis.

It is true that Bonomo’s selection for the contest, which is being held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan, has sparked a glint of hope among Turkey’s 20,000 Jews, who have watched anxiously as their country’s historically strong relations with Israel have deteriorated.

“It is the first time in history that a talented young Turkish Jewish singer will represent Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest,” Derya Agis, a scholar of Turkish Jewish culture and history at Brandeis University, wrote on her Facebook page. “Turkey will show the importance of diversity in Europe where anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have been problems since centuries.”

Or, put a little less academically by Denise Saporta, a spokeswoman for Turkey’s Jewish community: “A Jewish boy is going to represent Turkey!” she told JTA. “We’re all very proud.”

Saporta downplayed the attacks on Bonomo, saying they were typical of political factions that deride minorities in general and are not representative of Turks.

“This always happens with ‘firsts,’ ” she said. “If he were anything other than a Sunni Muslim male – a woman, even – these media would attack.”

Going by his Facebook fan page, Bonomo has a solid following among Turks of all stripes. The video of the “Aksam” interview drew hundreds of comments in support.  One fan, Osman Kural, denounced the “radical, right wing agitprop” and said it “in no way represents all of the country.”

Bonomo, 24, oozes hip, from his retro caps and his blazer over T-shirt look. His Twitter biography describes him as “musician/illustrator/writer/drunk/bast'E'rd. (- Chill dude.).” (His facility with English is another factor riling Turkish ultranationalists.)

EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style” with the Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles listed by the site as his influences. His vocals incorporate the rising and falling quartertones typical of his country’s music, and are set against throbbing drums and guitar and oud riffs.

Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.

Jewish singer is Turkey’s pick for Eurovision

A Jewish singer will represent Turkey at the Eurovision song contest.

Can Bonomo of Izmir was Turkey’s pick for the annual songfest, Zaman’s online edition reported Tuesday. This year’s contest will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in May.

EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the 24-year-old singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style” with the Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles as influences.

A board selected by the Turkish Radio and Television Corp. chooses the country’s contestant.

Dana International is Israel’s choice for Eurovision

Transgender pop diva Dana International will represent Israel at this year’s Eurovision song contest.

The Israeli music star won the chance to sing the Hebrew and English song “Ding Dong,” written by Zvika Pik, during a contest Tuesday night broadcast on Israeli television, where viewers voted for their choice. She won Eurovision in 1998 with the song “Diva,” also written by Pik.

Dana was known as Yaron Cohen before a sex change operation two decades ago.

Eurovision will be held May 14 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Dana will compete first in a semifinal two days earlier.

Israel requests Eurovision slot

Israel has been automatically slotted in the second semifinal of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest since the first falls on Israeli Memorial Day.

The semifinal slots are allocated by a special drawing, which will be held in January.

Israel would have withdrawn from the contest if it had not been assured of the May 12 semifinal.

Israel withdrew in 1980 and 1984 because the contest conflicted with the observance of its Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron.

Rita, Israel’s reigning diva, plays intimate evening in L.A.

The Rita show in Rio de Janeiro this February

Only Rita could have pulled it off.

Her famous “One” concert was the first time any Israeli recording artist has attempted such an extravagant, multimedia performance. With its crew of 50 tumbling dancers, grandiose costumes, pyrotechnics and video art, the $5 million production looked like it came right off the Las Vegas Strip.

Last summer’s show at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center, which took its inspiration from Céline Dion’s year-round Caesar’s Palace concert, “A New Day,” drew close to 100,000 fans over a period of one month. That’s a lot of concertgoers for a country with a population of some 7 million, especially considering the concert was held during the height of the second Lebanon War.

“It was like a miracle,” said Rita, who much like Madonna and Cher eschews her last name. “It was a huge success.”

The concert proved that after 25 years on the stage, Rita is Israel’s most beloved diva. And at 45, the daring performer shows no signs of slowing down.

This month, Rita has something more intimate planned for Angelenos. Only 500 tickets are available for her June 5 performance at the American Jewish University’s (formerly the University of Judaism) Gindi Auditorium.

“My desire in bringing Rita to this location, as opposed to a larger venue which we could have easily sold, is to provide people the unique opportunity to experience an intimate evening with one of Israel’s best,” said Gady Levy, dean and vice president of the AJU’s department of continuing education. “What I believe Rita does best is connect with her audience during a show. The close, informal setting will allow her to connect with the audience even more.”

The Tehran-born singer, known for her passionate love ballads, already enjoys a built-in Los Angeles fan club. After the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, most of her family in Iran split between Israel and Los Angeles, and she maintains close ties with her Los Angeles family, not to be confused with her Jewish fans abroad, who she also terms “family.”

Born in 1962, Rita Yahan-Farouz dreamed of performing from the time she was 4, when she sang into a microphone at her uncle’s engagement party, while standing on a chair.

“While singing, I remember it very clearly … very, very, very clearly…. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like I was home,” she said.

Her Zionist father felt it was time to pack their bags in 1970 after Rita’s sister came home crying because she refused to recite a Muslim prayer at school. The singer moved to Israel with her family at age 8.

As a teenager in Israel, Rita worked her way through dance school, acting school and voice lessons. The day after performing one of her singles for the Israeli Pre-Eurovision Song Contest, the Persian beauty was mobbed on the bus by new fans.

“It was a Cinderella story,” she said. “I didn’t know that it became that I could never go on a bus again. I got out after two stations. The entire bus was on me, touching and asking, and I didn’t know what happened. It was strange, very strange, very new, very frightening.”

But Rita didn’t set out to be the Israeli idol she is today.

“You don’t think big,” she said. “You’re innocent. It’s not like now that everyone sees all these contests, like ‘American Idol.’ It’s much more something that burns inside of you that you want to sing to people — you don’t think about big success, fame, nothing like that. It’s much deeper.”

Rita is flattered by her comparison to Canadian American legend Celine Dion, although when asked who her American idols are, she answers with little hesitation: “Beyonce. I don’t know whether to kiss or hit her because she’s amazing. She’s really something. She sings, she dances. I like very much the last record of Christian Aguilera.”

She counts Kate Bush and Barbra Streisand among her earlier influences for their multifaceted talents.

Of Dion she said, “I think [she] has a great voice — a great, great voice — but I never sat and cried when I heard her.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the similarities.

As a thespian, Rita has starred in Israel’s stage musicals of “My Fair Lady” and “Chicago.” Despite the occasional provocative, sexy dress, Rita, a mother of two (Meshi, 15, and Noam, 6) radiates a pure, “put together” image.

Rita married her teenage sweetheart, singer-songwriter Rami Kleinstein, who has written, arranged and produced many of her albums and who has performed at American Jewish University in the past. Their musical marriage is one of the most celebrated and enduring in Israel.

Rita’s attempt to break into the international market was cut short, in part, by her commitment to her family. She became pregnant with her second daughter while on tour in Europe promoting her English album, “A Time for Peace,” which sold just 20,000 copies.

“I think this is a very important decision to make,” she said. “I decided that I didn’t want to be famous and miserable when I come home alone. That’s why I had to decide that my main career will be in one place, so I could build a family with children and a husband.”

Old-school Rita at Eurovision 1990

MUSIC VIDEO: Teapacks — ‘Push the Button’ (Eurovision entry)

Quirky Israeli rockers TEAPACKS are this year’s official contestants in the 2007 Eurovision song contest and controversy is already brewing over the political nature of their entry “Push the Button.”


"A voice from the heavens/

Carries down to the whole world/

The angel is crying above/

Lamenting his son’s image."

Israeli countertenor David D’or might be singing about himself in the ethereal song, "A Voice From the Heavens." With a three-and-a-half-octave range, the crossover pop and classical star has been compared to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli with a Middle Eastern flavor.

This month, D’or joins the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble to celebrate its 20th anniversary, with "Neshama: Stories of the Soul," a multimedia production focusing on the central importance of Jerusalem as a symbol and experience of human life. "Neshama," which is funded in part by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, a Jewish Federation beneficiary, uses music, song, visuals and narration spanning the time of creation until present day.

With six gold albums to his name in both the classical and popular genres, D’or is a perfect candidate to bring Jerusalem to life. Last month, the angelic singer was selected to represent Israel at the 49th Eurovision, the international song competition. Although Eurovision is often scoffed at internationally, and virtually ignored in America, a number of stars have gotten their start from the contest, like ABBA, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias. Since it began competing in 1973, Israel has won the contest three times, most infamously with transsexual Dana International in 1998.

D’or’s upcoming performance in Los Angeles is par for the course. He has often collaborated with other artists, beginning in the army and later at Habima Theater, with such artists as Habreirah Hativ’it, Shlomo Bar and Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But neither Los Angeles nor Eurovision should make D’or sweat, because he has performed in the Vatican for the pope since 1995.

While D’or’s eclectic performances of "Amazing Grace," "Phantom of the Opera" and original songs to classical works by Bach and Handel have brought him worldwide attention in the classical world, back home with the younger crowd, he’s become a radio star with timely tunes like this one:

"Protect the world, little boy/

There are things that should not be seen/

Protect the world, little boy/

If you see you’ll stop to be/

Hero of the world, little boy/

With the smile of angels,

Protect the world, little boy/

Because we already haven’t succeeded."

"Neshama: Stories of the Soul" with David D’or and the Kesehet Chaim Dance Ensemble, Feb. 21, 8:30 p.m. ICC, L.A. Scottish Rite Auditorium, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, visit or call (818) 986-7332.


Avi Davis is president of Israel Development Group, a business consultancy, in Beverly Hills. He and his family own a home in Safed, Israel. Senior columnist Marlene Adler Marks will return July 3.









With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

A Nation Like Any Other

By Avi Davis

The sight of Israeli Minister of Tourism Moshe Katzav being kissed by Israeli singer and Eurovision song contest winner Dana International must have made someone, somewhere blush. But you wouldn’t have known it by reading any of the Israeli papers last week. With the kind of glee that is only reserved in the Holy Land for the smashing of idols, Israeli editorialists pounced on Dana’s victory as further proof that Israel, having produced not just a Eurovision contest winner, but a transsexual one, has finally arrived as a nation among nations. So finally, we have the good word from Israel: Androgyny is in. Ethnocentricism (read Judaism with its intolerance for diversity and priggish emphasis on sexual purity), is most definitely out.

It’s not the first time an Israeli singer has stirred the pot of national pique. Last year, pop singer Noa, in a show of flagrant contempt for her own religion, sang “Ave Maria” to Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Of course, there are millions of Israelis who champion such acts of self -revilement. Many voices declare that the seeming struggle between internationalism and insularity is in reality a murky battle between tolerance (read secularism) on the one hand and repression (read religion) on the other.

Unfortunately, that translates as little more than an apology for the collapse of one of Zionism’s most fervent promises. For if there was ever a sense that Israel as a nation might have a mission in this world other than material gain or the right of personal expression, it seems to have dissolved in the secular world’s exultation of escape from stifling age-old commitments.

Yet such joy can only be tentative. Because when examined carefully, the hankering after international acceptance reflects no more than a pervasive sense of inferiority and absence of self-worth.

With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

Indeed, if he returned today, Joshua, the Jewish people’s first general, might be puzzled to discover that many of the Caananite practices he thought he had eradicated are making their slow but steady comeback.

And although child sacrifice may still not be on anyone’s agenda, there is an eerie sense that in the unceasing effort by Israeli secular society to strip all religious influence from their lives, the moral imperatives that have served us faithfully for so many centuries are being discarded.

It should not have been like this. The early Zionist ideologues struggled with the moral character of the nation to be. Ahad Ha’am, one of the most spiritually inclined of them, declared that the Jewish state would be built on a foundation of Jewish values or it would perish.

Later, David Ben-Gurion made the famous statement that he longed for a normal state with normal problems. However, this expectation of normalcy was never conceived by Ben-Gurion to import the tawdry and banal from other nations at the expense of Jewish culture. Ben-Gurion’s profound respect for Torah and the ethical teachings of the prophets became for him a genuine ideal for the revitalization of his people. For Ben-Gurion, dyed in the wool secularist though he was, the term am segula (treasured nation) came to denote not so much the feat of land reclamation as a reassertion of the Jewish people’s role in the moral development of the world. In his own curious way, Ben-Gurion’s ideas were very much in tune with the vision of the prophets.

Sadly, despite some remarkable acts of charity as a nation (offering refuge to fleeing Vietnamese and providing agricultural aid to drought stricken African nations are just two examples that spring to mind), that’s not the way things have turned out. Everyday life in Israel is beset with acts of dissoluteness and discourtesy. Israelis are often uncouth and vulgar. Rudeness, in stores and on the roads, is a way of life. In Tel Aviv, Jewish prostitution has become a very serious problem; an underground Israeli cartel now works in partnership with Palestinian thieves masterminding a pandemic of car thefts in the major cities. From male strippers in the living rooms of Tel Aviv to the notoriously unpleasant business practices of Israeli entrepreneurs, both in Israel and outside of it, Israelis have earned for themselves the unhappy sobriquet of prickly boors for whom ethics are no more than the doormat you use to clean your boots when you enter a house.

It is of course unfair to label all Israelis as degenerates or even lay the blame for every moral infraction at the feet of the secular. The Orthodox (courtesy of Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein) and ultra-Orthodox have done little to assuage the prevailing view that they are self-righteous bigots who would bleed the state rather than give to it.

But the tragedy remains that for the secular, self-abasement has become the language of dissent and a weapon of revenge.

All of this just to be a nation like any other. You have to wonder if the ghetto was a happier place.

Whatever the answer, it was the sudden superstar elevation of the transsexual Dana International that provided the final confirmation that there is a price to be paid for normalcy and that price is the squandering of a profound moral heritage. To many of us, the singer’s victory became meaningless when her status as Israel’s first transsexual singer was given more prominence than her actual song.

In truth, Dana International is perhaps a victim of all the hype that surrounds her and her painful journey deserves more our sympathy than our scorn. Yet her personal struggles set the State of Israel’s in sharper relief. Is it, after all, truly unrealistic to expect
Israel, a country composed largely of secular Jews, to subscribe to traditional Jewish codes of ethics and behavior? I don’t think so. Does it mean that all secular Israelis need to become religious? Not at all. But the Israeli education system can certainly provide guidance by accepting as a principle that being an Israeli carries with it responsibility and instituting compulsory instruction in
musar (ethics) that would ultimately lead to strengthening the nation’s moral purpose and an improvement in everyday life.

In the meantime, all normalcy advocates can certainly take heart. In normalcy, they will find a fertile ground for the flourishing of tolerance and maybe even the political framework for a future State of Canaan.