When Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon last year with her hit song, “Toy,” the triumph earned Israel the right to host the 64th annual contest. In tune with Netta’s empowering anthem, the Jewish state is not playing around with preparations for the spectacle. Even rocket attacks from Gaza are not impeding plans for the event, which runs May 14-18 at Expo Tel Aviv.
“For months, we have prepared for these kinds of scenarios and responses,” Sharon Ben-David, head of communications for Eurovision for KAN, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, told Army Radio.
In a May 6 statement, the European Broadcast Union (EBU) said: “We continue to work alongside KAN and the Home Front Command to safeguard the well-being of everyone working at and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv. The rehearsals have been unaffected and continue as normal. The artists, delegations and production crew are working hard, and everything is running to schedule and going well.”
Located 20 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport, Expo Tel Aviv is overhauling pavilion 2 for Eurovision’s 41 competitors, with a dynamic stage, audience seating, and everything needed for television monitors to broadcast foreign-language commentaries from other countries. The Tel Aviv-Jaffo Municipality is creating an official beachside welcome site. KAN and the EBU will broadcast the event to an expected audience of 200 million. Israel will broadcast the semifinals on May 15 and 16, and the finale on May 18. Meanwhile, the city is promoting the event with an emphasis on sustainability and climate-friendly initiatives.
Local organizers are billing Tel Aviv as the most sustainable and climate-friendly Eurovision location to date, and city officials say instead of relying on plastic, catering will use perishable paper, bamboo plates and utensils, and reusable glasses. The Expo has installed power-saving LED lights to conserve energy and is recycling gray water from air-conditioning units to water lawns, Expo CEO Tamir Dayan said.
Israel’s representative this year is Kobi Marimi, who will perform “Home” by Inbar Wizman and Ohad Shragai. The song is an expression of self-esteem for Marimi, who struggled with childhood obesity, and includes the refrain, “I am someone.” The official video already has garnered more than 1 million views.
“We continue to work alongside KAN and the Home Front Command to safeguard the well-being of everyone working at and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv. The rehearsals have been unaffected and continue as normal.”
— European Broadcast Union
Israel’s involvement with Eurovision dates to 1973, with Ilanit performing “Ey Sham.” Israel was the first non-European country granted permission to participate. Israel’s broadcaster, the former Israel Broadcasting Authority, was an EBU member, thereby allowing participation. Israel’s first win was in Paris in 1978, when Izhar Cohen and his backup band, the Alphabeta, triumphed with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi.”
Israel won the following year when Jerusalem hosted, with a performance of “Hallelujah” by Milk and Honey. Dana International made headlines in 1998 when she became the first transgender singer to win Eurovision, with “Diva.”
The competition returned to Jerusalem in 1999 and Israel has made it to the grand finale every year since 2015.
Expo Tel Aviv has a history of staging large-scale international events and hosts hundreds of concerts that bring in 2.5 million visitors per year. Past performers include Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop and Nine Inch Nails. “But this will be a first for Expo Tel Aviv to be hosting one of this scale, scope and size,” Dayan said. He estimates approximately 80,000 people will attend Eurovision.
To bring Expo Tel Aviv up to international standards for Eurovision, Expo Tel Aviv invested more than 8 million shekels (roughly $2.3 million U.S.) to improve the facility. Crews have installed more than 500 new signs, most of which are in Hebrew, English and Arabic, and overhauled the website to be “inviting, convenient, accessible and international,” Dayan said. A newly inaugurated plaza offers an expansive background for television journalists.
In addition to the improvements at Expo Tel Aviv, the city is constructing a companion site called Eurovision Village. This official festival area is located at Charles Clore Park, in the southern part of Tel Aviv at the end of the beach promenade.
A new main entrance to the compound now is titled the Rokach Gate, which cost NIS 500,000 (approximately $139,000). The gate bears the logo of the “Flying Camel,” designed by artist Aryeh Elhanani when the complex was constructed in 1932. Drone aficionados and passengers in a nearby hot-air balloon will discover the roof of the Expo’s pavilion 1 now boasts the same image.
In the 1930s, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, promoted the idea of “Levant Fair.” Based on the popular World’s Fair, Dizengoff envisioned bringing together cultures and the region’s produce at an international festival.
At the time, 20-year-old Tel Aviv was home to 100,000 inhabitants, most of them recent immigrants. Lore has it one of the event’s many critics dismissed the fair as a crazy concept, saying, “The Levant Fair will happen when camels will grow wings and fly … .” The event was a success, and the Flying Camel was transformed into the facility’s mascot. It has remained in honor of those who, the Expo suggests, “dare to dream.”
Fittingly, those three words double as the theme of this year’s Eurovision.
The reporter received a tour of the facilities, courtesy of the European Israel Press Association.
Lisa Klug is a freelance journalist and the author of “Cool Jew” and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe.”