More countries confirm attendance of Eurovision as Tel Aviv named host

After the host city announcement, Iceland becomes the latest country to confirm its participation, indicating smooth sailing ahead.

By
September 13, 2018 21:40
4 minute read.
Israel's Netta arrives for the news conference after winning the Grand Final of Eurovision.

Israel's Netta arrives for the news conference after winning the Grand Final of Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena hall in Lisbon, Portugal, May 13, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/PEDRO NUNES)

 
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You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

No matter which city the European Broadcasting Union announced on Thursday to host the 2019 Eurovision – Tel Aviv or Jerusalem – someone was bound to be upset.

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But the decision to host it in Tel Aviv on the third week in May made it clear that the EBU and KAN are working hard to ruffle as few feathers as possible.

And so far, they seem to be succeeding.

While every country that hosts the Eurovision has a bidding process, few are as fraught as the one this year, which managed to combine the normal considerations with political tensions and religious sensibilities.

While many will see the decision to host the competition in Tel Aviv instead of the capital as a political one, EBU officials indicated that one of the major sticking points was in fact activity on Saturday.

The Eurovision grand finale is always held on a Saturday night, and rehearsals are staged all week long, including Friday evening and Saturday morning.

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And from soon after Netta Barzilai won this year’s competition in May, haredi officials expressed concern over the public desecration of Shabbat.

The Jerusalem Municipality – unlike Tel Aviv – would not publicly state that it would allow competition activity on Saturday if it hosted the competition.

During his visit to Israel in late August, Eurovision executive supervisor Jon Ola Sand said, “There’s no way the Eurovision song contest can be hosted anywhere without having the possibility to work also through Saturdays. It’s absolutely impossible and that’s paramount for us.”

Hosting the competition in Tel Aviv won’t entirely quash ultra-Orthodox outrage at the event. But, as Interior Minister Arye Deri indicated in an interview last week, the haredi parties will likely learn to live with it.

The political implications of the host city should also not be underestimated. Earlier this year, Israeli officials loudly and repeatedly proclaimed that the competition should be in Jerusalem. But they virtually all backed off of the demand.

One of the most vocal was Culture Minister Miri Regev, who said at one point that if the contest wasn’t in Jerusalem, it shouldn’t be in Israel at all.

In June, a scheduled friendly soccer match between Israel and Argentina was canceled at the last minute; many blamed Regev, who insisted on moving the game from Haifa to Jerusalem.

On Thursday, Regev said while she’d hoped for a contest in Jerusalem, she was satisfied with Tel Aviv. That’s a considerable backtrack from her earlier position.

While there will certainly still be calls to boycott the Eurovision in Tel Aviv, the voices will undoubtedly be muted compared to a contest in Jerusalem. The European Union views Jerusalem as a disputed city, and the future capital of both an Israeli and Palestinian state.

Already on Thursday, shortly after the Tel Aviv announcement, Iceland said it would in fact take part in the 2019 competition. Earlier this year, a petition to boycott the competition gathered more than 25,000 signatures in Iceland, prompting its public broadcaster to say it would have to examine the issue. But on Thursday, the RUV broadcaster said since the contest was in Tel Aviv – and since the other Nordic countries are also taking apart – they will be competing in Israel next year.

Of course, before the city was even announced, at least 19 countries had confirmed participation in next year’s competition, including the Muslim-majority Azerbaijan.

In response to the EBU’s announcement, the BBC Eurovision Twitter account tweeted a GIF of Netta Barzilai with the words “Initializing #Eurovision 2019 like...”

While the contest is many months away, it is looking unlikely that any countries will pull out for political reasons.

And the EBU wasn’t only treading carefully with the location. The date of the competition – with two semifinals on May 14 and 16 and the finale on May 18 – was one very deliberately selected as well. The competition has been held in May every year since 1989. But in Israel, May is a jam-packed month, including Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day and Independence Day in its first two weeks. Many believe that the last week in May was knocked out because the finale would coincide with the German Football Cup on May 25. Pleasing just about everyone, the EBU and KAN settled on the third week in May to host a weeklong musical extravaganza in Tel Aviv.

Of course, the arguments surrounding the upcoming Eurovision aren’t over, and there will be many more spats and headlines to come over the next eight months.

But the events of Thursday have made it clear that the EBU, KAN and the State of Israel are looking to work together to ensure a smooth event come May.

Now Nadav Guedj, Israel’s 2015 Eurovision contest, will get to fulfill the words of his song “Golden Boy,” which landed him in ninth place in the competition that year: “I’m a golden boy/ Come here to enjoy/ And before I leave/ Let me show you Tel Aviv!”

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