Since Netta’s victory Jon Ola Sand has become a very familiar face with the Israeli public. So it’s not that surprising he’s frequently interviewed by the Israeli media. Last week Mr Ola Sand found himself in a rather unexpected position: acting as a “mediator” between two rivals — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and KAN’s CEO Mr Eldad Kovlenz. Their differing viewpoints came to blows during a meeting that took place just before the announcement of the chosen slogan for Eurovision 2019 – “Dare to Dream”. According to Ha’Aretz, Sand’s positive and professional approach helped these two rather large personas overcome some of their disagreements. He’s been handling these situations since May and has learned to navigate Israeli politics quite well.

Here are some of the highlights from Mr Sand’s recent interview with Italy Stern, Ha’Aretz correspondent, in which he spoke freely about Eurovision, Israel and everything in between….

Politics is out, music is in

Mr Sand’s “acquaintance” with Israeli politics started immediately after Israeli politicians announced that Jerusalem would host Eurovision, followed by the endless dispute between KAN and the state over the Eurovision security deposit, and, of course, the decision made by the EBU that Tel Aviv would host the contest and not Jerusalem despite political will for the latter. The EBU’s message has been clear from day one with no exceptions. He said:

“We cannot allow politics to interfere. We have been very clear about it since the beginning. The Israeli politicians also understand that any politicisation of the contest will look bad. The best way to introduce Israel to the world is to do Eurovision without any politics involved or any manipulation. People see these things instantly.”

He also referred to the letter that was sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu requiring Israel to undertake and guarantee that no visitors will be banned from entering the country regardless of their origin or political views.

“Any host country is required to give similar undertakings. This has also been the case in Sweden, Germany, Portugal and Ukraine. The reason why we require this in advance is to avoid any potential claims about discrimination. This is our framework. The letter also deals with security issues — we have equal formalities for all hosts countries”.

Boycotts? Not on my watch

Mr Sand emphasised that the message of leaving politics to the side and focusing on music is meant not only for Israel and its politicians but also for activists and people who are calling for boycotts of the contest.

“We do not want Eurovision to be used as a platform for any political aims. So if there is a fan who is also an activist, we do not think that this is a positive thing. We want people to come to Israel and enjoy – that’s it.”

“There is nothing I can do about people’s perception of Israel. Whatever they think about Israel is their own opinion. However, the EBU is an organisation with clear policies — no politics of any kind is allowed. In fact, no country has announced that it intends to boycott Eurovision, and it is now a fact that Israel will host Eurovision.”

This is Tel Aviv’s time

One of the biggest hurdles was in relation to the host city. Whilst Jerusalem was the early favourite, Tel Aviv was eventually chosen. Some commentators have suggested that this was dictated by the EBU behind the scenes. Surprisingly, the decision was positively accepted by the Israeli public and politicians and this is probably due to what has been defined in HaAretz as the “assertive yet friendly approach” on behalf of Mr Sand. When asked if he thinks that the EBU’s “threats” made the difference, he said that the decision stemmed from practical grounds only.

“Everybody now understands that Tel Aviv as host city is a good decision. Jerusalem hosted the contest twice in the past, and Tel Aviv – which has successfully hosted various international events recently – can also handle the Shabbat situation more easily”.

But the selection of Tel Aviv as a host city has also some cons, such as the relatively small size of the ICC venue with approximately 10,000 viewers and a lack of affordable accommodation (blessed be the cruise ships).  Mr Ola Sand puts things in perspective:

“We will only know later how many people can be in the arena, but there is no doubt that the maximum will be 10,000. This has also been the case in Lisbon with approximately 9,000 people. In Oslo 2010, 16,000 people could attend and in Dusseldorf 2011, the number was circa 35,000, but in most contests the figure is in the region of 10,000. There are 9 shows [including dress rehearsals and family shows] to cover the demands”.

He also indicated that solutions are being considered in response to room shortages such as short lets in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. Curiously, just a few days ago it was published in Israeli media that the owners of countryside assets are planning to offer cheap rooms (aka “Zimmers” in Hebrew) to visitors.

Eur-optimisim

Despite Brexit and the rise of Euroscepticism throughout Europe, Mr Sand is very optimistic about the future of the contest and he believes that Eurovision is even stronger now.

“I actually believe that due to the changes we currently witness, Eurovision becomes even more important. When it comes to Eurovision, Europe is united and we will continue to preserve the values that the contest promotes, namely, unity and standing together.”

That being said, he does not see Turkey returning to the contest even though there have been several attempts to convince them to come back.

He also had an interesting message and tips as to how to win Eurovision.

“You must have all the package, the message must be catchy. Making a good show is not enough. For example, Netta’s message about women’s empowerment was great but the reason why she won is because she created a ‘wow’ effect. If you want to win Eurovision you must captivate the public and the juries.”

And here’s another scoop: he admitted that if he had the opportunity, he would have been happy to meet with Lys Assia, the first Eurovision winner, who unfortunately died last year.

“I’ve had dinner with Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA, and with Alexander Rybak several times, but I wish I could meet Lys Assia, who won Eurovision 1956 and used to come to all the contests ever since. She’s been a real icon.”

In the meantime, preparations for Eurovision 2019 are in full swing and after the announcement of Florian Wieder as the stage designer, the concept of the stage has also been revealed. It will consist of moving triangles to symbolise Judaism and the state of Israel through the Star of David.

The final list of hosts is also expected to be revealed soon as well as details about the Israeli NF – “The Next Star”. We recently visited Charles Clore Park — where construction has started to expand the park for Euro Village — and things are really coming together! So stay tuned for more details!

Read more Israel Eurovision news

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Yediot newspaper reports that the #Eurovision 2019 stage will feature moving triangles inspired by the Star of David ?? The article also says that initially seven candidates had submitted their application and they were later shortlisted to two — the Israeli design company Forma Studio (headed by Maya Hanoch) and Florian Wieder. Both of the leading candidates were required to submit an amended offer to the EBU and KAN. In the end, a professional committee chose Wieder’s sketch. The motif will be moving triangles symbolizing Judaism and the state of Israel. Israel Hayom also covered this and noted that the Israeli designers who lost are very disappointed. The original tender mentioned a preference for showcasing Israeli heritage and culture. #eurovisionsongcontest #eurovision2019

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BRC
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BRC

Isn’t it Kyiv who only had a capacity of 9,000? I thought Lisbon’s arena could hold up to 15,000 spectators.

Purple Mask
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Purple Mask

Thank you, Izhar Levy, for this article. I think it’s one of the best from Wiwi this year.
I admire Jon Ola Sand greatly for trying to de-politicise the ESC all round and emphasize the music. I wish him and the ESC all the best. It’s going to be a challenging year.

kfkkf
Guest
kfkkf

Voting is all politics that’s why predictions are much different because they are free from it but when politics kick in results are totally different. Also one enterntaiment show won’t change the country what it really is.

Gili
Guest
Gili

Funny…ebu chose tel aviv due to political reasons, such hipocrats, unbeliveble

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

There seems to be a very broad definition of the word “politics”. Human rights abuses transcend mere “politics”…speaking purely hypothetically of course (don’t lock this comments thread!).

Also I would have thought Jon Ola had plenty of opportunities to meet Lys Assia, she attended several contests and anniversary celebrations?

Jo.
Guest
Jo.

Which basically means politics are allowed.

Mr. Vanilla Bean
Guest
Mr. Vanilla Bean

The EBU’s equal formalities on security must be something like this:
“If you can’t provide enough security to avoid stage invasions, don’t sweat it. We’ll just put the rehearsal video of the country or countries in question on YouTube and act as if nothing happened.”

It's the BBC's fault, not the UK's
Guest
It's the BBC's fault, not the UK's

Well, Turkey will never make a comeback anyway since Conchita’s win. Turkey is a Muslim country and their leadership is tight with LGBT rights. The contest is very unlikely to change, so I can’t see Turkey come back anytime soon…

Frisian esc
Guest
Frisian esc

1944, lute e alegria, “closer to the crime cross the line a step at a time”, face the shadow. Oh and how could i forget the time azerbaijan showed a karabagh themed postcard right before their performance in 2012.
…Right, Absolutely no politics in eurovision up till now.

Nora
Guest
Nora

And what’s wrong with Azerbaijan showing Karabagh themed postcard? I mean it’s their territory in every single world map (maybe except Armenian, Idk). I don’t think it’s political anyhow.

Frisian esc
Guest
Frisian esc

Except for baku, it was the only regional area receiving it’s own postcard. It’s their most disputed territory with an armenian ethnical majority. They showed exactly that postcard before the azerbaijani song in the year they hosted… That’s a clear statement.

YourMan
Guest
YourMan

I disagree with Karabagh thing. It would be political if Armenia did that because that place is under their occupation. Well, Azerbaijan’s move was very clever indeed, but I think that any other country would do the same in their place.

By the way, what was “A luta e alegria” about? I always thought it was just another novelty act. LOL

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

The Portuguese revolution in 1974. Their Eurovision entry of that year was played on the radio to trigger it.

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

If there was any doubt before, the EBU certainly made it clear in 2012 that they don’t care about politics. Azerbaijan hijacked the contest to self-promote their horrendous regime, and nobody gave a sh!t.

Except for Loreen & Anke, of course.

Polegend Godgarina
Guest

I mean I think political songs should be allowed as long as they don’t take themselves too seriously like We Don’t Wanna Put In, or as long as the message is very hidden like Apricot Stone. It’s good to be #woke and I’d love a song like Dear Mr. President by P!nk from a certain EU country with a trash head of state.

Sangfreud
Guest
Sangfreud

As soon as you allow one, you have to allow them all. Then you’re in the business of picking which politics are “serious” and which aren’t.

BULSCHIET
Guest
BULSCHIET

Nobody can’t avoid politics from any international event, it’s a crucial part of life. They can just try to minimise the effect as much as they can. But the EBU itself has its “politics”.

Mr. Vanilla Bean
Guest
Mr. Vanilla Bean

Face the shadow of your apricot stone when the music dies.

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

Russia 2013 didn’t take itself too seriously…I mean, coming from that country, it could only have been a sick joke.

KAZAKHSTAN
Guest
KAZAKHSTAN

LET KAZAKHSTAN PARTICIPATE YOU B*TTHOLE

Kostek
Guest
Kostek

to get 12 extra points to Russia?
now way

Shanfa Chai
Guest
Shanfa Chai

I don’t mind Kazakhstan receiving extra 12 points from Russia if they send something like their Junior Eurovision entry this year (or better).

Shanfa Chai
Guest
Shanfa Chai

You are in the wrong place dude. Go complain that on ESC’s official Facebook or Instagram page.