Eurovision 2019: Tel Aviv Triumphed Over Jerusalem, but Can the White City Handle the Pressure?

BDS, public transportation problems and security issues are sure to keep the municipality and Shin Bet security service busy

Netta Barzilai performs in Tel Aviv after her Eurovision win, May 2018.
Moti Milrod

Now that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, will be hosting next year’s Eurovision contest, the capital’s already shaky image has taken another knock.

Jerusalemites haven’t finished licking their wounds from the June cancellation of the exhibition soccer match against Argentina before the World Cup in Russia. Then they had to deal with the European Broadcasting Union, which opted Thursday for the first Hebrew city over the holy city.

Once the choice was announced, liberals in the capital began sending out press releases lamenting the tragedy that had befallen them. These people, including mayoral candidates Rachel Azaria and Ofer Berkovitch, didn’t explain how Jerusalem would have handled a clear desecration of the Sabbath, demanded by the producers of the competition. It was easier to cry out “disgrace” on Twitter than find a solution to the threats by the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members who said they wouldn’t allow a desecration of Shabbat.

Other politicians – Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Culture Minister Miri Regev – were forced to eat crow. Erdan called a disgrace the European Broadcasting Union’s demands to grant entry to everyone, regardless of their political views. He was also against dress rehearsals on Shabbat and complete freedom of the press and expression.

But Erdan is expected to sign the document agreeing to these terms; without his signature, the holding of Eurovision in Israel will remain in doubt.

As for Regev, after Netta Barzilai’s victory in Lisbon this year, she rushed to raise Jerusalem to the status of her greatest joy. Regev decided that next year’s contest would be held in the capital – and only there. But now she has sent her congratulations to Tel Aviv. Better late than never.

As for Tel Aviv, it can rejoice. The event will bring in no less than 100 million shekels ($28 million) in revenues, and along the way the White City will earn invaluable media attention. Based on recent years’ numbers in other host cities, about 20,000 tourists are expected to pack Tel Aviv, including its cafés and clubs.

Between 6,000 to 9,000 lucky people, depending on the size of the stage at the Tel Aviv Convention Center in the north of the city, will watch the finals in person; Lisbon’s Altice Arena hosted about 18,000 people. But if you can’t get tickets to the finals you can still enjoy the semifinals or rehearsals, which you can buy tickets for too.

The finals will be held on May 18, during Judaism’s Omer mourning period and only 10 days after the Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations. The contest will be held in the Convention Center’s Building 2; Building 1 will host the 1,500 journalists expected to cover the event.

Charles Clore Park along the beach, where the main events of the Gay Pride festival are held each year, will be the site of the Eurovillage, where fans will gather for performances and parties and watch large-screen projections of the contest. Tel Aviv has hosted Pride marches with 200,000 participants in recent years – among the biggest in the world – not to mention huge annual marathons. It’s used to producing big events.

But it seems Eurovision will be a big challenge. Public transportation from the center of the city to the north will have to be rerouted, along with security arrangements for the dozens of delegations from the various countries. This will require unprecedented preparations and be the responsibility of the Shin Bet security service. The organizers of the Pride events also want to know when they can schedule their parade next year, which they hope can serve as a complement to the competition.

Besides city hall, the person who must address all the urgent arrangements is Eldad Koblenz, the CEO of the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, known as Kan. He has yet to receive a commitment from the government on a budget for the events, which have an estimated price tag of 120 million shekels. Koblenz is supposed to receive a check to cover this sum from the Finance Ministry, which hasn’t yet signed a single commitment for the contest.

If the finance or communications ministries continue to claim that Kan will have to pay for the events out of its regular budget, further delays are to be expected. No one at the public broadcaster wants to reach the finish line without money to cover its promises – or with an inferior television production.

Finally, remember that while Tel Aviv is the host city, Israel is the host country for all the participants, journalists and tourists arriving for Eurovision. The government seeks to paint Israel as a normal and democratic country, an effort that will undoubtedly run into resistance from the BDS movement – which has already begun its preliminary campaign to boycott the contest.

As of now, the drizzle is far from becoming a flood – but a major military operation in the north or south or an incident in which many Palestinians are killed could turn this low-key opposition into a diplomatic tsunami. One can only hope that Eurovision, in its own grandiose way, will help prevent any escalation.