Will next year’s Eurovision be held in Jerusalem?

Haifa, Tel Aviv, Eilat and even Masada are also bidding to host the 2019 competition, and they’re being careful not to offend political sensibilities. But which has the best shot?

Netta Barzilai performs in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv after winning the Eurovision, May 14, 2018. (Tamara Zieve)
It was the rallying cry within minutes of Netta Barzilai winning the Eurovision Song Contest last month: Next year in Jerusalem.
Barzilai herself uttered it onstage after accepting her trophy, and it was reiterated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture Minister Miri Regev that very night.
Without waiting for the ink to dry on the newspaper headlines, Israel had made its statement: the 2019 competition would be held in Jerusalem.
Except not so fast.
Just over a month later, the question of the host city for next year’s Eurovision is far from settled. And that isn’t just because the European Broadcasting Union – the Eurovision’s governing body – requires any host country to submit multiple bids for a host city.
The repeated Israeli insistence that the competition be held in Jerusalem has irked the EBU, which requires a bidding process each year. And the city has several other potential strikes against it: its controversial status in the eyes of many of the European nations that take part in the contest; concerns over threats and security; and the vocal opposition of much of the city’s ultra-Orthodox population.
But that doesn’t mean Jerusalem is off the table.
Earlier this week, shortly after returning from a meeting with EBU officials in Geneva, Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster, asked Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat to submit bids. Kan, which is responsible for coordinating the show, has said that other locations that meet its criteria are welcome to also submit proposals. So far, one more has come in: Masada.
Which of these sites is best suited to host next year’s Eurovision? The answer is complicated.
When Israel hosted the contest in 1979, and again in 1999, it was held in the capital. But 20 years is a long time, particularly in Eurovision history. In 1999, just 23 countries took part in the event; in recent years that number has topped 40. And the Eurovision has added not just one but two semifinals leading up to the big event, expanding the contest into a week of live competitions, intensive rehearsals and other events.
Ron Kavaler, an avid Eurovision fan who serves as the Israel correspondent for the popular Eurovision news site Wiwibloggs.com, said there is no easy answer.
“Each city has some advantages and disadvantages; there is no one perfect choice,” said Kavaler. “However, it feels like a race between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
According to the EBU, the host city must have a covered venue that can hold 10,000 people, a press area for 1,500 journalists, a wealth of hotel rooms, transportation infrastructure and the ability to hold the event in a safe and secure manner.
How do the five options stack up? Jerusalem is home to the largest indoor venue in Israel, the Payis Arena, which holds around 11,000 people. In Tel Aviv, the Menora Mivtachim Arena holds just over 10,000 people, and the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds has a 50,000-square-meter indoor space that could be adapted for the show.
Neither Haifa nor Eilat have any indoor spaces that come close to the size needed. In Haifa, the Sammy Ofer outdoor stadium could possibly be enclosed for the occasion. In Eilat, the mayor has said he will “look into all options,” including building a new venue from scratch. Similarly, Jerusalem officials have weighed enclosing the 30,000+ seat Teddy Stadium to provide greater space. In his letter to Kan’s CEO this week, the head of the Tamar Regional Council suggested Masada, but did not indicate how the outdoor location would meet the requirements.
This year, the contest was held at Lisbon’s Altice Arena, which holds 20,000 people; in 2017, the show was at Kiev’s International Exhibition Center, which can seat just 11,000. While the host city is often the country’s capital, it is by no means a requirement; of the UK’s eight times hosting the event, just four have been in London.
While Kavaler said the capital may have the largest indoor venue, “Eurovision is more than just the venue and the hotels, and that’s why I’m not sure Jerusalem is the best option. Tel Aviv looks like the best option, even if the venue might be smaller, but it’s the total package of a modern (and gay) city, good vibe, many hotels.”
FOR BEN ROYSTON, a UK-based Eurovision expert and writer, the answer is clear.
“I have been to all the potential cities several times,” said Royston, who says he has attended 20 Eurovision contests and worked at 11 of them. “I love Jerusalem, but it’s hosted Eurovision twice already. Haifa is beautiful but lacks an airport big enough to cope with the thousands of delegates, crew and fans from across Europe. Eilat would be incredible, but I doubt the new airport and all the routes would be running in time. For me, there’s one clear choice. If a person is born to do something, Tel Aviv was built for Eurovision.”
Royston said the coastal city is “one of the most liberal and pro-LGBT cities on the Med, stunning beaches and plenty of hotels, a world-class airport and an incredible nightlife.... Eurovision has a huge LGBT following, and Tel Aviv would be an ideal choice for them.”
While all five locations are exploring the option of hosting the massive annual event, they all are also treading particularly carefully amid the political sensitivities.
Several weeks ago, Regev declared that if the Eurovision can’t be held in Jerusalem, it shouldn’t be held in Israel at all. Since that statement, the culture minister has backed down from her call, likely in part due to a rebuke from the prime minister. Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara both have stated that they will cooperate fully with EBU demands for the competition. But while Kan is exploring the multiple host city options, it is clear Israeli officials still think the capital is the best choice. And the other cities are being careful not to negate that.
In response to a request from The Jerusalem Post, the Tel Aviv Municipality would only issue one statement: “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and therefore the Eurovision should be held there.” In a radio interview this week, Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi – while pitching the city as a host – said: “My personal opinion is that the Eurovision should be held in Jerusalem; if it isn’t, there is no more fitting city than Eilat.” In his letter, Tamar Regional Council head Dov Litvinoff clarified: “My suggestion does not serve in any way to cancel out Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”
And even Jerusalem, likely tempered by the media circus surrounding the decision, would not publicly comment on its bid to host: “The municipality is working on the issue behind the scenes and not through the media.”
While ultimately there will be only one host site, the answer need not be black and white. In a Knesset hearing about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and the Eurovision earlier this month, Yoav Tzafir, a longtime TV and music producer and director, said there are ways to include multiple cities in the weeklong Eurovision event.
“There are many creative ways that Jerusalem can be honored without the event actually being hosted there,” said Tzafir, who has been part of Israel’s Eurovision delegation for the past four years. “Even if the venue is in Tel Aviv, the opening ceremony could be in Jerusalem... or the opening video clip could be in Jerusalem.”
But none of this means Jerusalem is off the table as a host city. Contrary to many reports, the EBU has never stated that the capital is a poor choice for the competition.
The governing body has bristled at repeated media reports that the city and the date were decided long before any meetings were even held. That was what led to a much buzzed about tweet telling fans “don’t go booking your flights just yet.” Last week, the EBU said that planning has started, and “as in previous years, a decision on which city will host the contest will be made following a bid process,” and will be announced no later than September.
Kan is slated to meet again with EBU officials in the next couple weeks, and is itself treading carefully after the EBU expressed concern over the rampant politicization of the competition.
Next year in Jerusalem? That remains to be seen.