It’s high time for Israel to pull out a win at the Eurovision singing contest – mathematically, at least.
In 1978, Alphabeta took the No. 1 spot with A-ba-ni-bi. In 1998, Dana International’s “Diva” won the prize. So in the year 2018, you’d think, it’s time for Israel to be the Eurovision champion once again. After all, every 20 years is basically a tradition by now. But, of course, it’s not that simple – and not just for geopolitical reasons.
As has been the case for the past three years, the winner of the TV show Hakochav Haba (“Rising Star”) will represent Israel at the Eurovision. And for the past two months, local viewers have been treated to the auditions of a diverse group of talent – and some lacking talent – from across the country. A wide variety of ages, backgrounds, religions and stories have been on display over the many auditions, including some memorable tales.
There’s Nissim Black, the Seattle-born rapper who led a life full of violence and drugs until he converted to Judaism, became a hassid and now lives in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood. He performed his original song “Fly Away,” which includes the lyrics “I’m on the quest for greatness/ For now I’m learning patience/ The neshama inside is filled with many places/ The Mikdash Me’at/ Lifting the curtains up.”
Then there was Tzlil Goldman, from Binyamina, a young woman with 12 siblings from a family of Messianic Jews. She sung a haunting version of Christina Perri’s “Arms” that blew away all of the judges. The panel was also impressed with Jose Steinberg, a native of Colombia who played the guitar and sang to arguably the year’s biggest hit song: “Despacito.”
Indeed, Israel’s immigrant population was on display throughout the show, with olim from the US, Ukraine, France, Russia, Uzbekistan and the Philippines taking part. There was even Cedric Makolo, a native of the Congo who speaks nine languages and has 32 siblings – a product of coming from a polygamous culture. He is in Israel because he has a daughter here, who was born to a woman he met in South Africa when she was selling Dead Sea products at a kiosk.
But there were also plenty of only-in-Israel stories, like Priel Yehoshua Fitoussi, from Bat Yam, who recently lost his father and less recently, his brother, who was killed during his IDF service. Fitoussi is religious and gay and volunteers at a gay youth center, while his sister has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair. The judges were moved by his emotional performance of a Margol song and were glad to see him advance.
There was also Shusha Mansour, who works as an Arabic- language singer in Nazareth. She won over all four judges, but the young audience didn’t give her enough votes to send her through. Yet the two hosts of the show utilized their “save” button to give her another chance.
While there was some confusion last year if Israel would be able to participate in the Eurovision next year, that controversy has been put to bed – for now. At the end of last year’s broadcast, IBA’s Ofer Nachshon bid goodbye to the competition, leaving global audiences wondering if that was it for Israel’s participation. And while Nachshon might have over-dramatized, there was some reason to worry. IBC, the replacement for the IBA, has temporary membership in the European Broadcasting Union, ensuring it can partake in Eurovision 2018. But the EBU is waiting to see the future of IBC, stylized as Kan. If, as the Netanyahu government wants – and on which the Supreme Court has yet to rule – Kan’s news and entertainment departments must be split in two, the broadcaster may not be eligible for full participation.
But for 2018, at least, Israel will certainly be taking part in the most colorful, glittery and kitschy contest around. So who should Israel sent to represent it on stage?
For the past three years, we’ve sent a man to the competition. Perhaps it’s time for a change? After all, Shiri Maimon in 2005 earned Israel’s highest finishing place – No. 4 – since Dana International took the prize. And sending an immigrant to the contest definitely shouldn’t be ruled out. Nadav Guedj, who was born in Paris, ended up with Israel’s highest finishing spot for the past nine years. Plus, all three of Israel’s wins in its more than 40 years of participation have been Hebrew-language songs. But for the last four years we’ve gone with an English submission.
According to the math, 2018 is Israel’s Eurovision year. But will we send the right person? It remains to be seen.