Tel Aviv to host Euro­vi­sion

Po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy mostly cleared up by mov­ing con­test out of Jerusalem

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - ARON HELLER

JERUSALEM — The Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test an­nounced Thurs­day that next year’s com­pe­ti­tion will be held in Tel Aviv, clear­ing up some of the po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Is­rael’s host­ing of the 2019 com­pe­ti­tion.

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment had ini­tially in­sisted on hold­ing the pop­u­lar event in Jerusalem, but fol­low­ing a back­lash over the U.S. recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal and a sub­se­quent fear of boy­cotts it dropped the de­mand to host the world’s largest live mu­sic event.

Euro­vi­sion said it chose Tel Aviv, Is­rael’s cul­tural and com­mer­cial epi­cen­tre, over Jerusalem and the south­ern city of Ei­lat be­cause of its “cre­ative and com­pelling bid.”

“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,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Hul­dai. “We are look­ing for­ward to host a joy­ful and non-stop event in the spirit of Tel Aviv.”

Is­rael won the Euro­vi­sion this year with a flashy pop tune called Toy by the charis­matic, pre­vi­ously un­known singer Netta Barzi­lai, who daz­zled view­ers with her fem­i­nist lyrics, un­con­ven­tional ap­pear­ance and sig­na­ture chicken dance. Her vic­tory earned Is­rael the right to host next year’s con­test.

In Europe, cap­i­tal cities have usu­ally played host. But the city Is­rael con­sid­ers its cap­i­tal is not rec­og­nized as such by most of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Host­ing the com­pe­ti­tion in Jerusalem could have pre­sented a predica­ment for the pub­lic broad­cast­ers that make up the Euro­pean Broad­cast­ing Union, spark­ing crit­i­cism that they would be tak­ing sides in the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

The so-called BDS group — for Boy­cotts, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions — has called for the Euro­vi­sion con­test to be boy­cotted al­to­gether if it is held in Is­rael.

Is­rael cap­tured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and an­nexed the area in a move that is not in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized. Is­rael con­sid­ers the en­tire city to be its cap­i­tal, while the Pales­tini­ans seek East Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of a fu­ture state.

Is­rael held the Euro­vi­sion con­test in Jerusalem with­out in­ci­dent af­ter its pre­vi­ous vic­to­ries, most re­cently in 1999. Is­rael’s out­spo­ken cul­ture and sports min­is­ter, Miri Regev, lob­bied hard for Jerusalem again, say­ing Is­rael, and no one else, should de­cide where the event should take place. She rec­om­mended Is­rael not host the Euro­vi­sion at all if Jerusalem was not cho­sen.

But af­ter the Ar­gen­tine na­tional foot­ball team’s snub of an ex­hi­bi­tion game in the city ear­lier this year, Is­rael backed off its in­sis­tence. Fear­ful of be­ing ac­cused of politi­ciz­ing the feel-good event, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu re­solved that the gov­ern­ment would not in­ter­vene.

Is­rael’ s in­ter­nal cul­ture wars have also seeped into the Euro­vi­sion show, with an ul­tra-Or­tho­dox mem­ber of Ne­tanyahu’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment urg­ing the gov­ern­ment to pre­vent the sab­bath from be­ing des­e­crated. The fi­nale usu­ally takes place on a Satur­day night, shortly af­ter the end of the sab­bath, mean­ing that prepa­ra­tions for the show could vi­o­late the sa­cred day.

By choos­ing Tel Aviv, Euro­vi­sion ap­pears to have made a safer bet. The coastal city is a top in­ter­na­tional tourist draw, far more as­so­ci­ated with its vi­brant nightlife than its pol­i­tics. It boasts Is­rael’s most ra­bid Euro­vi­sion fan base. Fans flooded Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in front of City Hall, with some eu­phor­i­cally jump­ing into a pub­lic foun­tain, af­ter Barzi­lai was an­nounced the win­ner this year in Por­tu­gal.

The City Hall build­ing was lit up to spell Toy and elec­tronic signs through­out the city con­grat­u­lated her.

Tel Aviv, host­ing the event for the first time, says it ex­pects around 20,000 tourists to ar­rive and gen­er­ate an es­ti­mated of $36.4 mil­lion in di­rect rev­enues from the campy, gay-friendly spec­ta­cle.

Euro­vi­sion says its semi­fi­nals will be held in Tel Aviv on May 14 and 16 fol­lowed by the Grand Fi­nal on May 18.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Is­rael’s Netta Barzi­lai cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test in Lisbon, Por­tu­gal, on May 12, 2018. The Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test has an­nounced that next year’s com­pe­ti­tion will be held in Tel Aviv.

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