Israel may have waited 20 years for Europe to crown its most recent Israeli Eurovision winner, but the country had already enjoyed a pretty glorious history at the contest. Well aware of the country’s three other winners, Deban and I decided to watch them back-to-back and pick our favourites. You can watch our reaction above.

If you want to skip to any particular winners, here are the timestamps:

0:54 1978: Izhar Cohen & the Alphabeta “A-Ba-Ni-Bi”
5:07 1979: Gali Atari & Milk and Honey “Hallelujah”
9:10 1998: Dana International “Diva”
14:30 2018: Netta Barzilai “Toy”

1978: Izhar Cohen & the Alphabeta — “A-Ba-Ni-Bi”

An up-tempo disco number, this slightly wacky song has stood the test of time — during our various visits to Israel we’ve frequently heard it at Eurovision nights and parties. The playful song carries the message that we should “speak in a language of love” rather than one of secrets. Unlike so many Eurovision songs, it ends almost immediately after a key change, rather than with a bridge or repetition. Performance wise it’s simple but effective. Izhar — who can shimmy and shake with the best of ’em — stands in front of his five backing vocalists and they move and sing in unison, totally slaying the party vibe.

1979: Gali Atari & Milk and Honey — “Hallelujah”

Give us milk, give us honey, give us something sweet! Israel does just that with “Hallelujah”, a jaunty feel-good number that lulls you into its orbit with some very prominent piano notes. Led by the lovely Gali, who is accompanied by three blokes, the song draws strength from its simplicity and easy-to-remember chorus that you struggle not to sing along with. The performance begins with the sole focus on the female lead, and each of the other singers is introduced one-by-one, helping give the show a bit more visual appeal in an era of very basic staging. The song was famously performed at the end of Eurovision 1999 as a tribute to the victims of the wars in the Balkans.

1998: Dana International — “Diva”

Ahead of Eurovision 1998, some Orthodox Jews were aghast that a transsexual would sing for Israel. But on stage Dana rebuked them all by honouring strong women like Victoria and Aphrodite–and casting herself in their image. Europe voted for that message for sure. But it also voted for the song, which was as feisty and empowered as Dana herself. The instantly catchy beat drew you in and the chorus made sure you’d never want to let go. Viva la diva indeed!

2018: Netta Barzilai “Toy”

“My teddy bear’s running away, the Barbie got something to say” — it’s a lyric that sums up Netta’s mission of serving play with a purpose. Her Barbie has sass, attitude and a keen sense of empowerment. She’s busting balls in the name of her sisters while bringing swells, dips, wordplay and a very big note that drives it home. Doused in a gorgeous Mizrahi mix that draws on Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, it balances authenticity with disposable pop perfectly. Take me to the club, take me to the picket line. If Netta is there I’m sold.

Which of Israel’s four winners is your favourite? Which do you think will stand the test of time? And which acts would you like to see reprise their numbers in Tel Aviv in 2019? Let us know down below!

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Fatima
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Fatima

I really enjoyed this clip, it showed how the contest has developed. I was watching live in 1978 and A-Ba-Ni-Bi did appear to be ahead of its time. It was exiting that Israel won again in 1979, and we could never have imagined those songs of 1998 and 2018. Roll on 2038.

TheDrMistery
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TheDrMistery

I deeply respect both Deban and William for their contributions to the ESC world but in the end you gotta know the history behind the contest. It didn’t start in 1998, as many people commenting on YouTube and posting on this site, seem to think (no disrespect but many rankings of songs don’t go deeper than that). In 20th century there were many great editions and fantastic songs. I think this video is the start in the right direction – it can be a platform to educate fans about history of the contest which is very rich and memorable, especially… Read more »

TheDrMistery
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TheDrMistery

It must be stated though that Anne-Marie David and “Dschinghis Khan” were great as well and it was cool to see both William and Deban knowing about them. I’d love to hear more about given older years. 1979 was one of the greatest editions, song-wise, this contest ever had.

Tyl
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Tyl

Here we can see that so called “eurovision” professional don’t even know the history behind all. This made me sad..

Charles II
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Charles II

Exactly what I was thinking.
How can they be so clueless and still call themselves fans?
Maybe for them it’s all about the hype and much less about the competition or the songs themselves.

Nitz
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Nitz

These are such good songs and great classics, i don’t think they would ever get old, at least for me. I love all of them. Diva’s got something special though

Joe
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Joe

1) Hallelujah
2) Toy
3) A-Ba-Ni-Bi
4) Diva
But I love them all

Idan Cohen
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Idan Cohen

A short explanation about A-Ba-Ni-Bi :

This song talks about children that are too shy to say they love each other, so they hit each other instead, and what they really think they say in the “B-Language”. the B-language is a kind of a pig-latin. what you do is to take each syllable, multiply it, and change the first consonant to “b” sound

I love you -> I-bye-love-bove you-boo

In Hebrew
Ani Ohev Otakh -> A-A-Ni-Ni-O-O-Hev-Hev-O-O-Takh-Tack-> A-Ba-Ni-Bi-Oh-Bo-Hev-Bev-Oh-Bo-Takh-Bakh.

In 2018, as part of the national selection (HaKokhav Haba), Netta made an amazing, acoustic version of the song:

https://www.mako.co.il/tv-the-next-star/video?subChannelId=334bd980e7d90610VgnVCM2000002a0c10acRCRD&vcmid=c8360d2817e90610VgnVCM2000002a0c10acRCRD

Idan Cohen
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Idan Cohen

Transliteration

keshe-hayinu yeladim
ahavnu be-sodey sodot
el mi hayinu nekhmadim?
rak le-dodim ve-le-dodot
ve-habanot hamiskenot savlu
hametukot hen rak makot kiblu
ve`et ma she-hirgashnu be’emet
lakhashnu rak bisfat ha-bet

A-Ba-Ni-Bi-Oh-Bo-Hev-Bev
A-Ba-Ni-Bi-Oh-Bo-Hev-Bev Oh-Bo-Ta-bakh

Ahava,
hi mila yafa
hi tfila yafa
hi safa
Ahava ,
hi elai tova
hi tamid titgaber
u-be-sfat ahava nedaber

A-Ba-Ni-Bi-Oh-Bo-Hev-Bev..

ani kholem ve-kam shalosh milim
vemahu ha’olam – shalosh milim
veze ma she-ani margish ka’et
mamash kmo az bi-sfat habet.

A-Ba-Ni-Bi-Oh-Bo-Hev-Bev..

Idan Cohen
Guest
Idan Cohen

And translation:

I-Bye-Love-Bove
I-Bye-Love-Bove you-boo

When we ere kids
We loved extremely secretly
Who were we nice to?
Only to uncles and aunts

And the poor girls suffered
the sweet ones were only beaten
and what we really felt inside
we whispered in the “B language”

I-Bye-Love-Bove
I-Bye-Love-Bove you-boo

Love
is a beautiful word
is a beautiful prayer
it’s a language
Love
it’s good to me
it will always push through
and we shall speak
in the language of love

I-Bye-Love-Bove
I-Bye-Love-Bove you-boo

I dream and wake up with three words (Milim..)
and what is the world? three words
and this is what I’m feeling right now
just like then in the “B language”

Conor K
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Conor K

You guys also got ‘a ba ni bi’ stuck in my head haha 🙂