Israel and Eurovision: Euroclass or Eurokitsch?
(A) A new satellite TV station from Brussels
(B) Revolutionary laser eye surgery from Zurich
(C) A European song contest that Israel has won three times.
If you guessed (C), you are correct. Even though Eurovision rarely registers a blip in North America, if you’re a fan of Israeli music, you’ll certainly recognize some of the songs that got their start at this competition. It also helped the careers of Israelis Shlomo Artzi, Avi Toldeno and Ofra Haza, as well as international stars like ABBA, Olivia Newton-John and Céline Dion. Next month, singers from 37 countries will compete in Copenhagen, Denmark, hoping to do their countries proud by winning the 59th Eurovision Music Contest. First, a look at highlights from Israel’s entries over the years.
Ilanit was the first singer to represent Israel – at the 18th Eurovision Song Contest in 1973, performing the song Ey Sham. The competition took place in Luxembourg that year, and to accommodate the heavy security, all leave was suspended for the country’s police and soldiers. An urban myth circulated for years that Ilanit wore a bulletproof vest during her performance. Myth indeed! It was merely a diamond-studded flak jacket. Ilanit finished a pretty credible fourth.
Israel won its first Eurovision five years later at the 1978 competition in Paris with A-Ba-Ni-Bi. Sung by Izhar Cohen and AlphaBeta, the lively tune tells how two young people express their love using their own “secret” form of Hebrew. Think Pig Latin for the Holy Tongue.
A-ba-ni-bi o-bo-he-be-v o-bo-ta-ba-ch
Ani ohev otach (I love you)
The song was written by Ehud Manor who passed away recently at the age of 64. Manor was a prolific songwriter whose works include the popular, Bashana Haba’a.
Since Israel had won the competition in 1978, the country was given the opportunity to host the following year’s competition, which it did from Jerusalem. Israel pulled off a coup by winning again, this time before a hometown crowd with the very memorable Hallelujah performed by Gila Atari and the band Halav Udvash. Israel didn’t host – or participate in – the competition the following year because it fell on Yom Hashoah.
When it comes to Eurovision, not everyone’s a fan. Especially the critics. Writing in Ha’aretz, Sara Miller made her feelings quite clear. “For those who are not subjected to this annual aural punishment, the Eurovision Song Contest allows the European nations… to showcase a marathon of kitsch rubbish masquerading as singing and dancing.” Ouch.
Actually, Israel has done quite admirably with a number of songs that have withstood the test of time. You can watch these memorable performances online:
• “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” 1st place (1978) Izhar Cohen & Alphabeta
• “Hallelujah” 1st (1979) Gali Atari & Milk and Honey
• “Hora” 2nd (1982) Avi Toledano
• “Chai” 2nd (1983) Ofra Haza
• “Diva” 1st (1998) Dana International
• “Hasheket Shenish’ar” 4th (2005) Shiri Maimon
This year, all eyes will be on Mei Finegold, already familiar to Israelis for her third-place showing in Kochav Nolad 7, Israel’s version of American Idol. Mei will be singing “Same Heart” in English and Hebrew.
You fill me up/ With poisoned love/
You fill my soul with sense/ But I have learned to grow
Now, too many lies/ Too many cries
They’re as long as the infinity,
I'm starting to rise,
Don't need to be criticized,
I'm not an animal in captivity
I'm skinning you out/ No longer apart,
We don’t beat from the same heart
I'm, skinning you out/ No longer apart,
We don’t beat from the same heart,
We don’t beat from the same heart
Does Israel have another winner on its hands? Take a listen to Mei Finegold and you decide.