ISRAEL – Eurovision 2019 participants began touring around Israel on Sunday morning and rehearsing for next week’s semi-finals, despite the continuing barrage of rocket fire from Gaza. The five-day gala event is scheduled to open in Tel Aviv on May 12 with 41 countries participating. Madonna is scheduled to perform at the final, May 18, Saturday night event. Many of the delegations from participating countries began arriving Saturday and Sunday, while Israeli communities in the south were pummeled with more than 450 rockets over the weekend.
Some of the delegations were on Sunday touring major sites in the Jerusalem area, including the Old City and the Mahane Yehuda market. Israeli national broadcaster KAN said Sunday that all events for the Eurovision delegations were continuing as usual, despite the rocket barrage, based on recommendations from the Home Front Command.
Jon Ola Sand, the Norwegian television producer who is the executive producer of the song contest, stated Sunday that safety and security is always of paramount importance for the Eurovision Broadcasting Union.
“We continue to work alongside KAN and the Home Front Command to safeguard the well-being of everyone working in and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv,” said Sand. “We will continue to closely monitor the current situation and rehearsals will continue as normal.”
Sand had told Norwegian paper Aftenposten in April that there was no good replacement for holding the song contest in Tel Aviv as scheduled, following a late March barrage of rockets prior to Israel’s April 9 national elections. Sand said then that the Eurovision organizers “always have a Plan B,” but that he didn’t have a “good replacement for Eurovision in Tel Aviv. That’s where we want to be, and it’s what we’re working towards.” Sand wouldn’t elaborate on the details of Eurovision’s Plan B to Aftenposten. He was asked if he feared some artists would withdraw from the contest because of safety concerns in Tel Aviv, and said it could happen “but we haven’t had any indication of that so far.”
Sand, who has now been in Israel for several weeks, added that daily life in Tel Aviv was proceeding as normal, and that Eurovision representatives were following the situation closely, working with their own security experts, Israeli authorities and Kan, the Israeli state broadcaster. “There’s not much else we can do right now,” Sand told Afterposten. Sand commented that there are always attempts to use Eurovision politically, whether by calling for a boycott of Eurovision in Tel Aviv, something he said he was prepared to hear about right up to the final event on May 18.
“As of today, there’s little to indicate this year’s final will be used in some big political initiative, but there can surely be a lot of noise,” Sand told the Norwegian newspaper.
Ticket sales have also been slow for the event, particularly for the May 14 and May 16 semi-finals, with tickets costing NIS 1,000 to NIS 1,250 ($279 to $348). Some 30% of Eurovision tickets are sold outside Israel. Verdens Gang, or VG, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper, reported recently that the political climate in Israel may have contributed to the lukewarm sales. Sand commented to VG that while prices are higher than last year in Lisbon, it is the state broadcaster that determines the ticket prices, and Kan chose to set prices based on those of other international events and concerts that take place in Israel.