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Israel's 15-member delegation to the Eurovision song contest left for Talinn, Estonia yesterday with 22 journalists in tow. The popular annual contest is to be held May 25, and Israel's song, "Light a Candle," will appear in the tenth slot in the contest, sung by Sarit Hadad.

While Hadad was busy last week with daily rehearsals at a Tel Aviv studio, delegation head Yitzhak Sonnenschein was meeting with the singer's personal manager, Avi Gueta, and the songwriters to coordinate public relations efforts. They hope to minimize any difficulties they might encounter in the song contest as a result of the Middle East conflict.

Sonnenschein says that over the past few weeks he has been in contact with Eurovision director, Maurice Brats, a Norwegian-born Swede who lives in France. Brats' multinational background may provide a bit of help: keeping the cameras from panning the audience while the song is being performed. Sonnenschein and artistic consultant Tzedi Sarfaty fear there might be both vocal protests and the waving of signs among the audience while the Israeli song is being performed.

"In a 7,000-seat hall, it will be impossible to determine if the people coming into the hall are carrying signs protesting against Israel or against the song," says Sarfaty. He reports that official and unofficial Eurovision Web sites have already received pleas from Web surfers to have the Israeli song dropped from the contest, and to boycott Israel entirely.

"We are in contact with the director of the European Broadcasting Union, Christina Marshall, and she is not considering dropping the song from the contest at all. But we have no control over the voters. It is obvious to us that the voting this year will be strongly influenced by the political situation. But if we are able to make a positive impression, perhaps we can surprise people, for the good," says Sonnenschein.

The Israeli delegation intends to focus its efforts on the numerous press conferences that are held during the week prior to the contest. "We know that the press conferences with the Israeli delegation will be given a high media profile and will cause a great deal of interest, and to that end we have put together an extremely multilingual delegation," says Sonnenschein. "All of us speak English, and we also brought along an interpreter who will translate what we say into other languages. Sarit and some of the women in the delegation speak Russian, Zvika Pik speaks Polish, and I am fluent in German and Dutch.

"We will respond fully to questions, but we will try hard not to get into politics. We have prepared ourselves for tough questions, but we will try not to be dragged into making political statements. We prefer to deal with the contest side of things."

In addition, a prerecorded segment about Sarit Hadad and the songwriters has been made, which describes Hadad's career and her life in Israel. The video segment was produced using a technique that enables each broadcast network to dub it as they see fit. A written text has been appended to the segment. Sonnenschein reports that 18 countries have already said that they will be broadcasting it.