Eurovision 2019 to be held in Tel Aviv after months of speculation

Culture Minister Miri Regev says she had hoped the contest would be in Jerusalem, but she has no doubt that Tel Aviv will do a worthy job.

People celebrate the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 by Israel's Netta Barzilai with her song "Toy" , at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 13, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
People celebrate the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 by Israel's Netta Barzilai with her song "Toy" , at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 13, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Tel Aviv.
The European Broadcasting Union announced on Thursday that next year’s competition will be hosted in the coastal city – at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, with the grand finale event taking place on May 18. The two semifinals will be held on May 14 and 16.
“We’d like to thank all the Israeli cities that bid to host the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019,” Jon Ola Sand, the executive supervisor of the Eurovision, said in a video message. “In the end, we decided that Tel Aviv has the overall best setup to host the biggest entertainment show in the world. We are excited to bring the Eurovision Song Contest to a brand new city, and are looking forward to working together with KAN to make 2019’s Eurovision Song Contest the most spectacular one yet.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that next year’s contest “will be an excellent Eurovision. Tel Aviv is an international city, it’s a vibrant city, and the whole world will see this, and Israel.”
The decision, which was originally slated to be announced last week, was repeatedly delayed. Many speculated that the delay was due to a dispute between the Israeli government and the EBU over demands that all visitors and participants be allowed entry to the country regardless of their political views.
On Thursday, Frank-Dieter Freiling, chairman of the Eurovision Song Contest reference group, said “We are expecting to receive guarantees from the prime minister this week in regards to security, access for everyone to attend, freedom of expression and ensuring the non-political nature of the contest. These guarantees are imperative in order for us to move forward with the planning of the event and to uphold the Eurovision Song Contest values of diversity and inclusivity.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev said on Thursday that she had hoped the competition would be hosted in Jerusalem.
“As I said at the beginning, I thought Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, should host the Eurovision,” she said. “But from the moment that the decision was made to host the Eurovision in Tel Aviv, I had no doubt that the State of Israel and the city of Tel Aviv will host the Eurovision in the best and most worthy manner.”
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said that he is sure that Tel Aviv and KAN “will do good and professional work, and will glorify Israel’s name in the world. This is a golden opportunity to host in Israel tens of thousands of tourists and an international competition – and to do it in the best possible way.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai celebrated the decision, and said his city is the ideal location for the competition.
“The Eurovision is a perfect fit for our city, which has been internationally acclaimed for its vibrant energy, creative spirit, its lively cultural scene and its celebration of freedom,” Huldai said on Thursday. “We are looking forward to host a joyful and nonstop event, in the spirit of Tel Aviv-Jaffa!” The municipality said that, “as agreed upon,” it “will finance the venue” that will hold the two semifinals and the final event that are all broadcast live around the world.
The municipality said it will hold the opening ceremony at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and that the “Eurovision Village” will be situated on the Tel Aviv boardwalk at Charles Clore Park.
The Tel Aviv Fairgrounds is a 50,000 square-meter space in the very north of the city, near Tel Aviv University.
The complex, divided into a series of pavilions, is mostly used to host conventions and conferences. The newest construction, Pavilion 2, which was completed in 2015, can host events with up to 10,000 people, and has held many concerts and sporting events.
Netta Barzilai, the winner of last year’s Eurovision, said on Thursday that “our country is small and most of our cities are just a half hour of travel apart. The Eurovision celebrations will be held all around the country, and I’m so happy for all of us that such an amazing event, that will bring us tons of tourists, will take place in Israel.”
The decision to host the competition in Tel Aviv – and not Jerusalem, the only other finalist city – came after months of deliberation and public debate.
Some experts saw Tel Aviv as a less controversial host city than Jerusalem, with a lower chance of being targeted by boycott efforts. Many also saw the appeal of Tel Aviv as a gay-friendly tourist site, and the potential for holding the city’s Pride Parade to coincide with the competition.
This will be Israel’s third time hosting the competition, but the first in Tel Aviv. The 1979 and 1999 events were both held in Jerusalem.
After news of the announcement, the candidates for Jerusalem mayor attacked each other over the decision.
Ofer Berkovitch and Moshe Lion blamed the decision on fellow candidate, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who they said broke his promise to bring the Eurovision to the capital. Lion also blamed current mayor Nir Barkat, and Berkovitch said it was a missed opportunity to showcase the city’s multiculturalism.
Elkin shifted blame to KAN, which he said “proved once again that it does not consider strengthening Jerusalem an important priority.” MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), who is also running for mayor, wrote a letter to Netanyahu asking him to protest the decision and blaming the haredim for the competition not being held in the city.
“The choice of Tel Aviv is a surrender to an extreme minority and political pressure,” Azaria wrote.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report •