From Iraq to Yemen: Israel's Eurovision Entry Draws Unexpected Support From the Arab World

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Netta Barzilay
Netta BarzilayCredit: Youtube

Israel’s Eurovision entry is already the favorite to win the tournament on betting sites, and now, it’s arousing interest in Arab countries as well.

The Foreign Ministry shared a video of Netta Barzilai performing “Toy” on its Arabic-language Facebook page, which has 1.5 million followers. Several users declared that they hate Israel but nevertheless wished Barzilai success.

“I liked it,” wrote Hamad from Morocco. “Good luck, girl. Morocco is with you.”

Netta Barzilai's 'Toy'

Olaya, a woman from Morocco, wrote, “I’m in love with this song!” Another Moroccan even invited Barzilai to make a joint video with two Moroccan singers.

Abu Majd from Saudi Arabia was also encouraging. “This isn’t the type of music I like, but this song has everything it takes to become an international hit,” he wrote.

Ahmed, an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, wished Barzilai luck. That prompted an Egyptian, also named Ahmed, to attack him.

“You’re a Muslim, but your feelings are Jewish,” he wrote. “You don’t deserve the name Ahmed.”

The Iraqi retorted, “What does religion have to do with music and competitions?”

Another user called the song "wonderful", saying it mixes Arabic, Western and European music. A resident of Yemen said Barzilai had a beautiful voice and also wished her luck.

Yonatan Gonen, who heads the Arabic desk in the Foreign Ministry’s digital diplomacy department, said the post also garnered many comments from women, even though the page has few female followers.

“Many women from Morocco commented on the song,” he said, adding that Morocco “is a relatively open and liberal country, so many women apparently found something empowering in this song and wrote about it. The fact that it was posted around International Women’s Day was significant in this regard.”

Gonen said that certain elements of the clip particularly appealed to Arab women. “The singer is made up with very heavy makeup,” he noted. “The fact that she’s wearing large pieces of jewelry and sings part of the song with middle eastern musical arrangements created a feeling of identification among both male and female viewers.”

The ministry periodically posts Israeli songs to its Arabic-language Facebook page, “to shed light on lesser known facets of Israel,” Gonen added. “The Arab world is less interested in Eurovision, but this song nevertheless managed to generate interest. Through this song, we’re trying to show what a diverse culture we have here and shatter stereotypes regarding Israel in Arab countries.”

The clip was posted on Sunday, and by Thursday, it had already racked up 6.3 million views. It was the most popular YouTube clip in Israel this week.

The first Eurovision semifinal, in which Israel will compete, will take place in Lisbon, Portugal on May 8. The final will be on May 12.

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