Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands reacts after winning the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
After all the dust has cleared, the sequins and glitter have been packed away and the elaborate staging dismantled, we can look back at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with a great deal of pride.
Although hosting the campy, much loved music competition for the fourth time, it was the first time in the age of social media scrutiny and a viewing audience of 200 million people.
After months of frayed nerves, public fights and controversy over budget, location, Shabbat violation and BDS rumblings that threatened to undermine all efforts to stage the annual global competition, Israel’s national broadcaster KAN and the Eurovision Broadcasting Union ended up triumphantly pulling it off with style and confidence – matching if not surpassing the countries that have recently hosted the event.
London’s The Independent wrote that “this year’s Eurovision was one of the best in recent memory,” and in calling it “an incredible show” praised the Israeli broadcast’s “general splendor.” CNN called the grand final “a showpiece that would have disappointed few Eurovision fans.” Even The New York Times praised the production’s “glitz, plumes of fire and special effects.”
The Post’s Amy Spiro, who covered the lead-up, the competition itself and the aftermath as extensively as any Israeli reporter, astutely summed up the festivities by writing: “The bottom line was undeniable: Israel put on an impressive, praiseworthy and memorable show.’’
For Israel’s image in the world, Eurovision was a huge boost. The mini-video clips that featured each country’s performer at a different location around the country showcased the amazing physical beauty and cultural attributes that Israel has to offer. No paid tourism campaign could match their exposure, reach and ability to put the country’s best foot forward.
The thousands of fans and media who arrived and spent the week in Tel Aviv experienced the city in all its 24-hours-a-day fun splendor, proving in part the best hasbara (public diplomacy) Israel can put forth is hosting guests to see the country for themselves. Streets, restaurants, bars and beaches were full of celebrants witnessing a confident, exuberant country. And the sizable gay following that Eurovision attracts was able to witness the freedom that Israel offers to its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inhabitants.
As StandWithUs Executive Director Michael Dickson wrote this week in the Post, “Israel’s humanity was on display. Viewers in their millions got a taste of what the Israeli people are like and in the hosts – Israeli diversity too, hailing from different backgrounds, Arab and Jewish, straight and gay. The truth shone through – that in Israel, quiet coexistence happens every day.”
Attempts by Iceland’s entry and by one of Madonna’s dancers to inject politics into the event by brandishing Palestinian flags proved more of a distraction than a problem. Displaying a Palestinian flag alongside an Israeli flag is totally commendable, but not at an event that has not an iota of political blood in its system. Ultimately, Eurovision proved that it’s possible to stage an international event that could emphasize Israel without the need to mention Palestine in the same breath.
Claims of Israel trying to whitewash its problems ring false. Eurovision is simply not the forum for that, and no other country that has hosted the competition chose to display its shortcomings.
Israelis themselves are quick to criticize their country’s institutions and each other. Perhaps one of the hidden benefits of Eurovision is that it enabled us to see the country – its beauty, its achievements and its people – through the eyes of its visitors.
We can relish in the glory of our Eurovision winner from last year, Netta, and empathize with this year’s entry Kobi Marimi, who despite placing dismally in the standings, endeared himself to the hometown crowd with his heartfelt performance. And we can take pride in the performance of the Shalva Band, who displayed what true resilience and determination is to 200 million viewers.
Rather than relying on the standard “yihye b’seder” (everything will be okay), the hundreds of people who worked on the Eurovision production left nothing to chance, and in the end, produced an event that was a sight to behold and music to the ears.