The Israeli contenders for this year's Eurovision Song Contest have injected a rare note of political controversy into the competition by waving the flag of Israel's arch-enemy, Syria, during their performance.
The contest, traditionally a recital of inoffensive love songs, took place on Saturday in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.
Ping Pong, the band representing Israel, said that waving Syrian and Israeli flags side by side is a symbolic gesture appropriate to its message of "pleasure, peace and love".
The group caused a stir Thursday when they produced the flags during rehearsals for the competition.
Ping Pong member Guy Asif told Israel's army radio on Thursday: "We came to Stockhom to bring pleasure, peace and love and if they stop us from waving Israeli and Syrian flags in our act there's no point in singing our song.
"We are in favor of the return of all the land (occupied from the Arabs by Israel in 1967) and we don't think there is anything more innocent and touching than two flags flying side by side."
But the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, which officially sponsored the group, is outraged.
The authority backed down on its threat to force the group, whose song Happy has led the Israeli charts this week, out of the contest altogether.
"They will compete, but not on behalf of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority or the Israeli people,” fumed Gil Samsonov, the authority's chairman.
Israel's deputy education minister, Shlomo Yahalom, had called for Ping Pong to be barred, saying that it failed to reflect national values.
The authorities were said to be worried about the prospect of the Syrian flags appearing before millions of European viewers.
"Ping Pong was sent to represent Israel, not Syria", complained Uri Porat, another broadcasting official.
Ping-Pong's song tells the story of an Israeli girl who dreams of her lover in the Syrian capital, Damascus – (Several Sources)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)