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 transgender performer 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!