Eurovision excitement builds as popular song contest opens this week in Tel Aviv

Eurovision will likely dominate the headlines in Israel for the coming week.

By David Isaac, World Israel News 

Almost since the moment Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon last year, sending 1,000s of young Israelis into the streets at 1:30 a.m. in celebration, excitement has been building in Israel, which thanks to Ms. Barzilai’s win, gets to host the contest this year.

Although Eurovision is virtually unknown to American audiences, it enjoys much popularity in Europe. The country that wins enjoys bragging riots for a year. Last year’s win was especially sweet for Israel in that it was rare. In its 41 years of participating, Israel has won only four times, including last year’s victory.

On Tuesday, May 12, the first semi-finals will take place and two days later, on Wednesday, the second semi-finals. Six countries are already ensured spots in the finals, which will happen on Saturday night, May 18. Israel will be among them.

Kobi Marimi, Israel’s representative to this year’s contest, who survived a grueling weeks-long singing competition broadcast on Israeli television, practiced on stage on Sunday at the venue in northern Tel Aviv.

At a press conference after the rehearsal he promised to do his best and said, “We have waited 20 years for this and I will not let anyone take this moment from us.”

Many would like to take the moment from Israel.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has organized a boycott to stop it from taking place in the “colonialist occupier” state.  But at least some of its campaign is phony. Israel exposed hundreds of fake bot accounts on Twitter that created “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to give the appearance of a widespread campaign under the hashtag #BoycottEurovision2019.

Last year’s winner, Ms. Barzilai said last week that there was no place for boycott calls, saying that to snub such a popular world event celebrating diversity would be akin to “spreading darkness.”

Noting Israel’s upcoming annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, the new pop icon reminded a group of foreign journalists that the Eurovision was established in the wake of World War II to heal a torn continent.

“Being on the same stage, no matter what your religion or ethnicity or color, from all these countries, from all these cultures, this is a festival of light,” she said, at the annual meeting of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem.

“For people to boycott light is spreading darkness. It’s the exact opposite thing,” she said.

Israel also must deal with the terrorist threat. Hamas, which launched a rocket barrage on Israel a week ago, has repeatedly threatened that it would target the event, even producing a video showing its intention to bomb the venue.

The Ynet news site reports on Sunday that the IDF is remaining on high alert and Israeli police plan to deploy a 20,000-strong force in Tel Aviv.

AP contributed to this report.