The annual pre-Eurovision competition, which determines the singer and the song that will represent Israel at the annual Eurovision Song Contest, begins tonight on Channel One at 9:30 p.m..

The event, which will be hosted by actor Aki Avni together with Shiri Maymon, who represented Israel at the 2005 Eurovision contest, will take place at the Rishon Lezion cultural center and will be broadcast live on Channel One and Reshet Gimmel, as well as on eurovil, the official Israel Eurovision Internet site, which gives information about all the contestants in Hebrew, as well as updates in English about what is happening Eurovision- wise in other competing countries.

Among the contestants is former Eurovision winner Dana International, who won in Birmingham in 1998 with the song “Diva” composed by Zvika Pick, with lyrics by Yoav Ginai. This time she will be singing a song called “Ding Dong” She had previously competed in a pre-Eurovision contest in 1995 and had been ranked in second place.

Although she did not personally compete in the 2008 Eurovision contest, she wrote a song for Boaz Mauda who represented Israel.

Israel has triumphed at Eurovision on three occasions. The first was in 1978 in Paris when Izhar Cohen won with “Aba Nibi,” composed by Nurit Hirsh with lyrics by Ehud Manor. Israel won again in Jerusalem in 1979 when Gali Atari, backed by Milk and Honey, performed “Hallelujah” composed by Kobi Oshrat with lyrics by Shimrit Orr. Jerusalem has twice hosted Eurovision and hopefully may do so again. With their joint determination to make Jerusalem the focal point of Middle East tourism, Mayor Nir Barkat and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov would be ecstatic if Israel won this year’s contest, making Jerusalem a third-time host.

Of the 23 countries that have won Eurovision contests over the years, Ireland is ahead with seven wins, followed by France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, with five wins each.

In the past, Israel has sent some of its top singers to Eurovision. Shlomo Artzi in 1975 did not do well. In 1983, Ofra Haza came second with “Chai.” In 1985, Izhar Cohen represented Israel for a second time but ranked fifth in the final score. In 1990, Rita made it to only 18th place, which may have some kind of Jewish symbolism attached to it but was accompanied by considerable criticism in the Israeli media.

The following year, Datz and Datza with the catchy patriotic song “Kaan Noladiti” (This Is Where I Was Born), came third. Yardena Arazi, who was a Eurovision co-host in Jerusalem, also competed in Dublin in 1988 and was voted into seventh place. In other years, Sarit Hadad, David D’Or and Kobi Oz with Teapacks did not fare as well.

The winner of tonight’s finals will compete in the semi-finals in Dusseldorf on May 12, two days after Israel Independence Day.

Eurovision, which is one of the longest-running and most widely watched television shows in the world, was inaugurated on May 24, 1956. When Israeli singers who are considered to be icons at home do poorly at Eurovision, there is often a hue and cry about politics influencing the vote. Zvika Pick, who has composed several melodies for the contest and who has often accompanied the Israeli delegation, discounts such allegations. In a recent interview on Channel One, Pick said that politics had nothing do with the outcome. “All you need is a good song,” he said.

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