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12 Fun Facts about Israel and the Eurovision Song Contest

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Israeli contestant Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. Photo by Thomas Hanses/Eurovision

From bullet-proof vests to LGBTQ rights, the international song contest dearly loved in Israel is anything but boring

The people of Israel have a certain fondness, not to mention national obsession, with the Eurovision Song Contest — you know, the annual global singing competition that has millions of people glued to their TVs and crossing their fingers that their country’s representatives will outshine the rest.

This is a rendering of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest stage Expo Tel Aviv, as designed by Florian Wieder. Image courtesy of Eurovision

Luckily for us, the oh-so-fabulous Netta Barzilai was crowned the winner last year, meaning this year’s contest is going to be held in Tel Aviv. So what better time to delve a little deeper into one of the world’s most popular international singing competitions?

Check out these fun facts, and don’t forget to vote for Israel!

Israelis are slightly obsessed with Eurovision

As you may have gathered, Israel is a Eurovision-obsessed nation. Every year, the country excitedly sends off its best singer to a faraway city to compete against other national talents in the bid to win the coveted title and host the following year’s competition.

Why do we care so much? It may have to do with our inclusion in a seemingly exclusive club that has the word “Europe” attached to it. Other countries really want to play with us!

Eurovision also gives a much-needed respite from the usual news cycle, and brings together people from all walks of life. It all starts to make sense now.

Will Madonna perform at Eurovision Tel Aviv? Photo by A. Paes via shutterstock.com

We’re actually pretty good at it

Israel has won the Eurovision contest four times, a fact that emits a very loud, collective sigh of naches across the country.

Our first win was back in 1978, when Izhar Cohen & the Alphabeta belted out the impossibly named A-ba-ni-bi.

Just one year later, in 1979, Israel topped the chart again with Milk & Honey’s world-famous Hallelujah.

More modern wins were Dana International’s unforgettable 1998 hit song Diva, and of course Netta Barzilai’s 2018 Toy.

Pretty impressive, if we may say so ourselves.

Dana International, LGBTQ superstar

Speaking of Dana International, the transgender singer was a pioneer in Israel when it came to recognizing and lauding the LGBTQ community. Male at birth, International identified as female from a young age and went on to develop a popular musical career.

Her choice as Israel’s representative to the competition raised a few bigoted eyebrows back in the day, but she became an absolute inspiration for many people in Israel and across the world ever since. You go, girl!

Tel Aviv-based Milk & Honey Distillery launched this limited-edition bottle of its Levantine Gin in honor of Eurovision 2019, designed by local artist Pierre Kleinhouse. Photo: courtesy

Madonna will (we hope!) perform at this year’s contest

Everyone knows that Madonna (ahem, Esther) loves Israel and Israel loves Madonna. So you can only imagine the delight when it was announced the Queen of Pop will be giving a special performance at the contest in Tel Aviv this year.

However, as of press time, it remains to be seen whether this will be the case, with rumors floating of a yet-unsigned contract and no definitive official confirmation. We can only hope Madonna will take to the stage and grace the event with her presence, for there can hardly be anything more fitting.

The bulletproof vest that was or wasn’t

Another mystery surrounding the Eurovision dates back to 1973, when Israel first participated in the contest. Only a few months earlier, 11 Israelis were massacred at the Munich Olympics, and Eurovision host country Luxembourg was stressing out about securing singer Ilanit.

Ilanit went on stage wearing a very wide top, leading to speculation that a bulletproof vest was hidden underneath. Years later, the singer admitted there was no vest, putting the rumors to rest. Vest or not, she looked absolutely fabulous.

Daffodil diplomacy

Today considered one of the friendliest Arab countries to Israel, back in 1978 Jordan played a little dirty. Although the kingdom didn’t participate in the competition, it televised Eurovision each year, regularly stopping the broadcast ahead of the Israeli entry.

But when it became clear that Israel was going to win the contest with A-ba-ni-bi, the TV company found itself in a bit of a bind and opted to screen photos of daffodils all the time the Israelis were singing, claiming there was an error with the broadcast.

And if that wasn’t enough, it also refused to acknowledge that Israel won the competition, with local media crowning runner-up Belgium as the winner instead. Ahhh, the days before the Internet.

We’re not the only ones loving ‘Toy’

We in Israel obviously think Netta is the greatest, but it appears we’re not the only ones. Her winning song, Toy, is the most viewed song on the Eurovision Song Contest’s YouTube channel – 112,959,678 views, to be precise.

And with all due respect, this isn’t a number Israelis can reach by themselves.

Israel once refused to defend its title at home

One of the best parts about winning the Eurovision is the opportunity to host the event the following year. But in 1980 not only did Israel decline to do so, it also didn’t send a representative to defend its winner status abroad.

As we already know, Israel won the competition in 1978, meaning the contest took place here the following year.

When Israel won yet again on home ground, it was assumed that it would host the mega-event for another consecutive year. But the local broadcasting authority decided it was too cash-strapped for such an endeavor, and the competition was sent away to The Netherlands.

In the end, the proposed date of the contest coincided with Israel’s Remembrance Day, leading Israel to decline participation and an opportunity to defend its title yet again. We like to think we could have won three years in a row.

Israel’s leading favorites for the contest actually dropped out

Singer Kobi Marimi is going to be representing Israel at the Eurovision with the song “Home,” but that wasn’t always the plan.

In recent years, Israel’s representatives to the contest have been chosen through the “Rising Star” TV talent show, whose winners are sent off to the international contest. This year’s firm favorites on the show were The Shalva Band, comprised mostly of young people with special needs who won the hearts of judges and audiences alike. By becoming the widely popular choice in Israel, members of the band highlighted issues such as special needs and inclusion on prime-time television in an unprecedented manner.

Ultimately, the band chose to withdraw from the TV contest in its final stages because participation in Eurovision would have meant going against the Jewish laws of Shabbat, something the band’s religious members couldn’t do. However, they will be appearing as guest performers in the international contest – giving the rest of the world an opportunity to enjoy their magic.

This year promises to be an extravaganza

It’s no secret that Tel Aviv is one of the most fun cities in the world, and it’s pulling out all the stops in honor of Eurovision.

During Eurovision week (May 12-18), the city will run super-fun events such as the annual Layla Lavan (White Night) all-nighter party and the Tel Aviv EAT food festival.

In addition, bars and cafes are set to serve up drinks for only ₪10 throughout the week, and those wanting to brush up their Hebrew will be able to do so for free at the main event grounds.

Another great idea is to join locals for Friday night dinner at their homes – you can choose between a “regular” dinner, a “proud” LGBTQ-friendly one or a “communal” potluck. So put on your best shirt and go meet some Israelis. For registration information, click here.

Prepare to part with your cash

As fun as it’s all going to be, it’s also going to be pretty expensive, especially when it comes to accommodation.

When news broke that Tel Aviv will host the Eurovision, hotel room prices in the city skyrocketed, quickly followed by Airbnb listings – many young Israelis living in the city are planning to make a quick buck by returning to their parents’ for the week and renting out their Tel Aviv rooms at exorbitant prices.

The municipality initially tried to tackle this problem with plans to set up a massive campsite in one of the city’s parks, but it fell through. Couchsurfing, here you come.

Vote smart

The Eurovision winner is determined by vote. And while we’re obviously rooting for Israel, we’re not ignoring the possibility that other countries might have singers we may be tempted to vote for. But before doing that, we’d like to know whether they’re deserving of it – you know, whether their country voted for Israel in the past.

Unless you have an absolutely phenomenal Eurovision memory, you might want to check out Israeli startup Sisense’s Eurovision Data platform.

The platform analyzes the voting patterns in different countries, allowing you to make important, informed decisions. And in case you were wondering, France is reportedly the country that’s given Israel the most points over the years. Just saying.

            (Israel 21C)

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