While Israel is not actually in Europe, it has taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest forty times since it made its debut in 1973. Until 2017 it was able to take part as the Israel Broadcasting Authority was a member of the European Broadcasting Union. This all changed in 2017 and Israel’s future participation was in doubt. However, in 2018 Israel’s Broadcasting Corporation was given temporary membership of the European Broadcasting Union allowing it to take part at least one more time while the matter is given a full review.
Despite being a small Middle Eastern country, Israel has won the Eurovision song contest three times, in 1978, 1979 and 1998. Furthermore, the country generally does extremely well having reached the final thirty four times.
The first person to represent Israel at the Eurovision, in 1973, was Ilanit who finished fourth. Just a few years’ later Israel manged back to back victories in 1978 and 1979. Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta were the first to win for Israel with the song “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” and the next year Gali Atari and Milk and Honey won singing “Hallelujah”.
After these two victories Israel’s best results in the 1980s were second place finishes for Avi Toledano in 1982 and Ofra Haza in 1983. There were a number of other top ten finishes in the coming years with former winner Izhar Cohen finishing fifth in 1985 and Duo Datz finishing third in 1991.
Then in 1998 Dana International brought Israel’s third victory with the song “Diva”. Israel received 172 points that year, six more than the United Kingdom and seven more than Malta. Since then things have gone downhill a bit, Israel finished fifth in 1999 and since the turn of the millennium Israel has failed to reach the final six times. There was a particularly bad run from 2010 to 2014 when Israel failed to qualify for four consecutive years, but then in 2015 Israel reached the final again with Nadav Guedj finishing ninth. The only better result in this century came from Shiri Maimon who finished fourth in 2005.
However, this year (2018) Israel is the surprise favourite to win once again. Netta Barzilai is representing Israel with the song “Toy” and it has proved to be a massive hit with fans of Eurovision around the world. As soon as it was released it started gathering massive support and there are high hopes that Israel can claim its fourth Eurovision title this year, even as the country’s future participation remains somewhat in doubt.
Historically the countries that give Israel the most points are Sweden, France, the UK, Russia and Spain. Those who follow Eurovision will know that the voting system is far from straightforward, but the early signs are that they will once again be giving Israel’s entry a great deal of support.
If you are contemplating a gap year in Israel, then bear in mind that if all goes to plan, you may be able to attend the Eurovision finals in Jerusalem in 2019!