July 20, 2019

Israel's Most Historic Eurovision Win

“April 1, 1979 fell on the Sunday after Israel’s historic second consecutive Eurovision Song Contest victory. Shimon Shiffer, who was then a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Radio, had been touting a report from the morning hours that the Israeli government was going to declare “Hallelujah,” the song performed by Gali Atari and Milk and Honey that had given Israel its second Eurovision title, as the country’s new national anthem in place of “Hatikvah” that day. It was the perfect Fake News; no one doubted the item’s veracity. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin himself announced at a cabinet meeting that he had no idea what the report was talking about, they took the April Fool’s joke off the air.

A few days before the practical joke, March 26 – 40 years ago on Tuesday – Israel signed its peace treaty with Egypt. It was a Monday, and the rest of the world reported with amazement Israel’s atmosphere of euphoria while the country was making its final preparations for the song contest that Saturday in Jerusalem. There was a sense that the stirring song and its lyrics – “Hallelujah for what has been and what has yet to be” – precisely captured the national mood. No song or country could take a home team victory at the Israel Convention Center (then known as Binyanei Hauma) that weekend.

A year earlier, Israel had been surprised when “A-Ba-Ni-Bi,” the disco hit by Ehud Manor and Nurit Hirsch about children who sing in a Hebrew Pig Latin, won in Paris and brought Eurovision to Jerusalem. Izhar Cohen outdid romantic ballads from Belgium and France, as well as the disco hit by Luxembourg’s popular duo Baccara.”

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