As the 2019 Eurovision season quickly approaches we’re all holding our breath in anticipation of an official statement announcing the dates and host city for ESC 2019 in Israel. While the months following Israel’s win in Lisbon have been exciting to say the least, a decision regarding the host city should be announced in the coming weeks if not days.
Israel’s host broadcaster, KAN, has been holding a bidding process to select the perfect Israeli city to host the 2019 contest. And while seven different locales within the country have expressed interest in hosting Eurovision, it seems that only two candidates remain in the running.
Today we’re taking a look at those cities — Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — and comparing the amenities and attractions they offer. We’ll also look at the various obstacles that each city may encounter if they host.
Both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are cities well-known for their vibrant culture and rich sense of identity. But as many who have visited the two cities may tell you, that’s where the similarities end. Jerusalem is a city that was founded over 3,000 years ago and is considered one of the holiest places on earth by billions of people. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, was built out of the desert only a hundred years ago and has quickly grown to become a thriving metropolitan center of art, culture, and progressive values. It’s for these reasons that Jerusalem is sometimes referred to as the Jewish capital while Tel Aviv is dubbed the Hebrew capital.
The hilltop city of Jerusalem is home to 900,000 people from seemingly every walk of life. The old city alone, while less than one square kilometer, contains millennia of history and weeks’ worth of adventures and opportunities for exploration. The city’s energy and spirit is immediately detectable. Jerusalem is at once timeless and ever-changing, and the magic in the air is infectious. It’s no wonder that Jerusalem has been fought over more than any place in recorded human history.
As far as nightlife goes, however, Jerusalem isn’t exactly a pilgrimage destination. While the touristy shopping district in the center of West Jerusalem transforms into a strip of bars after sundown, you would be very lucky to find even a single gay bar in all of Jerusalem. Sorry, guys.
Tel Aviv, on the other hand, boasts dozens of gay bars and clubs, and even the “straight nightlife” in TLV is LGBTQ+ friendly. Frequently listed as one of the world’s best gay cities, Tel Aviv hosts one of the largest annual Pride Parades in the world. In fact, Tel Aviv Pride 2018 was the world’s second largest local LGBT event this year with over a quarter of a million attendees – over half of the city’s entire population! Eurovision is one large Pride festival of sorts. What better venue for the contest than a city which seems to celebrate Pride all year long?
And if you’ve had enough partying in the Party Capital of the Middle East, take a break on one of Tel Aviv’s numerous beaches, famous for having some of the softest sand on the Mediterranean. Toss in dozens of museums and countless up-scale brunch and eclectic dining establishments, and you’re looking at a city that has the potential to be one of the most exciting Eurovision hosts ever.
As far as hotel accommodations go, Tel Aviv seems to be the best option to host the thousands of visitors that will flock to Israel for Eurovision. While Jerusalem could certainly handle this volume of attendees, Tel Aviv’s hospitality culture tends to be friendlier with a wider price range of options.
Guests will be able to choose from dozens of upscale hotels overlooking the Mediterranean or one of the hundreds of low-cost yet comfortable Airbnbs and youth hostels across the city.
While Israel is a very small country geographically (the smallest country ever to host Eurovision after Luxembourg), its climate can vary drastically. In two hours, you could drive from the snow-capped Mt. Hermon to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth. The weather in Jerusalem is far less predictable in May than other parts of Israel, and temperatures could range anywhere from 15° to 25°C (60° to 77° F) with very much to very little wind.
Once again, Tel Aviv seems to be the Goldilocks choice. With temperatures staying mostly in the 20s (70s to 80s Fahrenheit) in May, the weather will be both predictably dependable and perfect for the beach.
Regardless of the city, we can rest easy knowing that we almost certainly won’t have to worry about rain at Eurovision 2019 since Israel’s rainy season ends in late March.
Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s only major international airport, is conveniently situated twenty minutes away from Tel Aviv and forty minutes from Jerusalem, with frequent taxis and shuttle services traveling between them.
This will make traveling to the host city relatively simple as guests arrive at the airport. A new engineering project may make travel even smoother and quicker for Eurovision attendees. For almost twenty years, Israel has been constructing a high-speed railway connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv – and it’s expected to be completed sometime in 2019. Whether or not the new Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway will be operational by May will have a massive impact on Eurovision 2019. Currently, to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem requires either a 90-minute car ride or a bus ride that may take even longer. When the high-speed rail is completed, however, passengers will be able to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in just 28 minutes. The railway even stops at Ben Gurion Airport, which will be a mere 20-minute ride from Jerusalem. If completed by ESC 2019, this will be a total game-changer for the event. Guests could easily travel back and forth between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem multiple times a day.
While many of the issues we’ve been discussing are standard talking points every year during the Eurovision host city selection period, hosting the contest in Israel brings up a new set of logistical challenges involving the Hebrew calendar and Jewish religious/cultural observances.
The Jewish Sabbath, called Shabbat, lasts from Friday evening to Saturday night each week and is a time of rest for Jews. There are many activities, however, which observant Jews refrain from doing on Shabbat including working, using electricity, and making purchases. Therefore, in more traditional communities across Israel, like Jerusalem, public life comes to a standstill on Friday evenings and Saturdays. That means there’s no public transportation and almost every bar, shop, and restaurant remains closed from Friday evening to Saturday night in Jerusalem. And while Jerusalem has successfully hosted Eurovision twice before, the contest has grown immensely in size and popularity since it was last held there in 1999. The new bigger and better Eurovision Song Contest needs to be held in a city that can accommodate thousands of visitors, including providing reliable transportation, food, and entertainment for them.
Tonight and tomorrow marks Tisha B'Av, also known as “The Ninth of Av,” a day of mourning and fasting for many Jews. This is a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples. In 586 B.C.E by the Babylonians and in 70 C.E during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Photo by: @seppowitch #visitisrael #tishabav #WesternWall #jerusalem
The issue of hosting Eurovision in a city that closely observes Shabbat poses not only logistical concerns but ethical ones as well. Some members of Israeli government as well as many religious Jerusalemites oppose the idea of hosting the contest in Jerusalem as the Friday night Jury show and Saturday rehearsals will conflict with Shabbat. Luckily, Shabbat shouldn’t pose any issue for hosting the contest in Tel Aviv since the city is relatively secular. Eurovision attendees will have no problem using public transportation or eating and drinking out on Friday or Saturday in Tel Aviv.
Next May will be a busy month in Israel even without Eurovision. May 1 is Holocaust Remembrance Day and May 8 is Israeli Memorial Day, which honors Israeli victims of war and terror and leads into May 9, which is Israeli Independence Day. These holidays, unlike Shabbat, are cultural observances rather than religious ones, and will be equally observed all over Israel. We can likely rule out the possibility that ESC 2019 will take place in the first full week of May as Semi Final 1 would conflict with the very somber and serious Israeli Memorial Day. Add in the German Football Cup, which has its final match on the 25th of May 2019, and we can assume that Eurovision will likely occur on the 14th, 16th, and 18th of May.
While weather, transportation, and local entertainment are important things to consider when choosing a Eurovision host city, perhaps the most important factor is the presence of a suitable venue for the contest.
Jerusalem has two potential venues: Pais Arena and Teddy Stadium. Pais Arena serves as Jerusalem’s indoor basketball arena and can house up to 15,000 guests for concerts. Teddy Stadium is an outdoor football stadium and can seat just under 32,000 spectators. Teddy Stadium would be the obvious choice given its size, but since it’s an outdoor stadium, a roof would need to be constructed in order to host Eurovision. Officials from Jerusalem have stated that if the city is chosen to host, their preferred venue would be Pais Arena.
Tel Aviv’s hosting bid has gained a lot of momentum in recent weeks. The most likely location would be Pavilion 2 at The Tel Aviv Convention Center (also known as the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds), which can hold around 10,000.
The mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai has stated that if Tel Aviv is selected to host the contest, The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality will cover the costs of the venue. Huldai also stated that the Eurovision Village for ESC 2019 in Tel Aviv would be larger than the one and Lisbon and would include bars, restaurants, and shows running during rehearsals. It’s been rumored that the Eurovision Village venue that the city of Tel Aviv has in mind is Charles Clore Park, a thirty-acre park directly on the Mediterranean Sea. The park is dotted with art and sculptures and the view from the park of the sun setting into the Mediterranean is truly breathtaking. Charles Clore Park is also the site of the annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade’s concluding celebration.
Despite Jerusalem’s experience hosting Eurovision twice before, it’s undeniable that the contest would be rife with political undertones should the contentious city host again in 2019. And personal beliefs aside, I don’t think anyone wants Eurovision to be overshadowed by conflict.
Since Jerusalem has already hosted the contest twice, why not showcase a new part of Israel? Tel Aviv is not only chic, modern, and tropical, but an LGBTQ oasis in the Middle East that would be the ideal locale to host the Eurovision Song Contest. With Eurovision events like the annual Israel Calling in Tel Aviv as well as lyrical and artistic references to the city in Israel’s last few Eurovision entries, it seems that Eurovision has been gravitating toward Tel Aviv for several years. Now’s the time for Israel to live up to their 2015 promise and #ShowUsTelAviv.
What do you think? What Israeli city should host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest? Let us know in the comments below.