“Dare to dream” is the motto of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv. For some it’s a big party, others are determined to boycott it. Sarah Hofmann reports from Israel.
Irit Shalev is sitting in the makeup chair at Israel’s private Reshet 13TV station. She is nervous. Once the makeup artist has finished applying eyeliner, she will go on stage to perform Izhar Cohen’s “Ole ole” with her group EuroFalsh— which means she will dance and move her lips to the music.
The audience at the “Potchim Shishi” talk show will sing along because Cohen is a legend in this country. He won the European Song Contest in 1978, and it is thanks to his victory that the small Middle Eastern country hosted the contest the following year for the very first time.
“Having the ESC in Tel Aviv is like a dream come true,” Shalev says — “because we are total ESC fans and because finally, we can reap the awards of years of work.”
The lip-synch group EuroFalsh has been around for 20 years, and they only perform Eurovision songs, dancing and lip-synching to them. As a rule, the ESC is the opposite of mainstream, but in Tel Aviv at the moment, it is everywhere, says Shalev.
The entire city is still decked out in flags from last week’s Independence Day, and these past days, more and more colorful Eurovision posters that read “Dare to Dream” — the official slogan for the 2019 ESC — have popped up. “Tel Aviv with its beaches is sexy and cool,” says Shalev, adding that it’s the “perfect place for the song contest.”
Ultra-Orthodox Jews indignant
The song contest was originally scheduled to take place in Jerusalem, like in 1979. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, however, threatened to protest because the ESC final always takes place on a Saturday evening. It was clear that thousands of people would have to work on Saturday — a taboo for devout Jews as the Sabbath is the holy day of rest.
When it became clear that the ESC’s host, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), was not willing to postpone the final, the Israeli government moved the competition to Tel Aviv, a city famous for its party and start-up scene. There will be a bus service there that Saturday, which is normally strictly forbidden across the country on the Sabbath. Rehearsals will be held all day Saturday, too — reason enough for the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism alliance to put coalition talks with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on hold for the time being.
This is not the government’s only concern in view of a festival expected to attract thousands of tourists to Tel Aviv and present a cosmopolitan peace-loving Israel.
Just days ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest, violence flared between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Israel. Sirens did not sound in Tel Aviv, but in Ashkelon and Ashdod — just half an hour by car from Tel Aviv— people were repeatedly forced to flee to the safety of bomb shelters.
Over the course of just two days, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired about 700 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, four Israelis were killed and dozens wounded. The Israeli army attacked more than 300 targets in the Gaza Strip; according to Palestinian reports, 25 people were killed. It was a nightmare for the Israeli government, which wants to keep the ESC out of any Middle East news coverage.