Israel receives high praise for hosting of Eurovision

Israeli organizers are praised for their running of the event, which went smoothly despite boycott calls and other controversies.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News 

After months of planning and a week filled with music, partying, and at times controversy, the annual Eurovision Song Contest has come to a close in Tel Aviv. The Netherlands was declared the winner by professional panels and a popular vote submitted through phone apps by viewers around the world.

The Dutch victory means the Netherlands earns the right to host next year’s event. Israel won last year’s contest but finished near the bottom in Saturday night’s grand final.

Israeli organizers received high grades from foreign visitors for their running of the event, including both the technical details of conducting the singing competition itself as well as outside arrangements which included activities that took place in the Eurovision Village.

Because of Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, this year’s event was marked by various anti-Israel calls to boycott the competition. The Jewish State earned the hosting honor by virtue of winning last year.

Local organizers breathed a sigh of relief that the boycott calls did not disrupt the smooth flow of the week-long activities, which included a semifinal round on Tuesday and Thursday and the grand final on Saturday.

The only blatant political detour centered around Iceland’s representative, a punk rock band called Hatari. Their song and overall demeanor were provocative and hostile.

On Saturday night, as their final result was announced, members of the Icelandic group held up Palestinian banners.

On the other hand, other foreign competitors spoke of Israel’s beautiful sights and how they enjoyed their visit.

Political and religious pitfalls

After Israel’s victory last year, some Israeli officials and politicians called for hosting the 2019 contest in Jerusalem. However, both the lack of international recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over its capital and the more conservative nature of the holy city convinced government officials to back off and acquiesce to hosting the song contest in Tel Aviv instead.

Even with the extravaganza taking place in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, internal Israeli controversy erupted over violation of religious observance of the Jewish Sabbath, which included friction over the issuing of Sabbath work permits for Eurovision preparations and rehearsals.

To protest the Sabbath desecration, haredi political parties temporarily suspended talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s representatives on forming a new government majority in the Israeli parliament in the aftermath of the April 9 general election.

In addition, a band on behalf of the Shalva non-profit organization, which supports and empowers individuals with disabilities and their families was forced in February to pull out of the Israeli competition for determining the country’s representative at Eurovision because of the issue of Sabbath observance.

All members of the band have disabilities, from blindness to Down syndrome and Williams’ syndrome. The band was advancing toward a victorious crowning as Israeli champion but backed out as preparations required breaking the rules of the Sabbath, even though the competition itself was not taking place on the day of rest. The band includes members who observe Sabbath in an Orthodox manner, as does the founder of the organization.

Shalva made a special appearance in Thursday night’s event and received rave reviews not only from Israelis but also in Europe. Some went as far as to say that Israel would have won again had the Shalva Band represented the country.

Among those defying the boycott calls was Madonna, who made a special appearance on Saturday night, though the excitement over her participation was phased by her off-key performance of the classic song ‘Like a Prayer’ and the protest by some of the performers in her group who wore Palestinian alongside Israeli flags.

On a more positive note, Israel had a full-circle moment on Saturday night when singer Ilanit, who was Israel’s first Eurovision Song Contest entry back in 1973, made a special appearance in this year’s Israel-hosted event, acknowledging afterward that the event had changed dramatically over the past 46 years.