(JTA) – Tel Aviv will host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest and not Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, the preferred site of the Israeli government. The semifinals will be held May 14 and 16, with the grand final on May 18, at the Expo Tel Aviv International Convention Center, both the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and the Eurovision Song Contest announced on Thursday. Both Jerusalem and Eilat also vied to host the world’s largest live music event, which last year attracted 186 million television viewers. Some 20,000 tourists are expected to arrive in Tel Aviv to participate in Eurovision activities. The Israeli government had insisted at first on holding the contest in Jerusalem – the host country typically hosts the event in its capital city – but relented on another site following the controversy over the U.S. recognition last year of the city as Israel’s capital and a subsequent fear of boycotts.
Israel won the right to host the 2019 Eurovision after singer Netta Barzilai won the competition in May. Israel, which has won the contest four times, will host for a third time, having previously staged Eurovision in Jerusalem in 1979 and 1999. Israel has participated in Eurovision 42 times since its first appearance in 1973.
A letter sent by the European Broadcasting Union to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in care of the Israel Public Broadcasting Corp. late last month said that Israel must allow preparation work for Eurovision to take place on Shabbat, including the dress rehearsal, and cannot prevent anyone from entering the country to participate in Eurovision based on their political opinions.
The letter also sought assurances that freedom of the press and freedom of expression will be allowed for all participants and that the KAN public broadcaster have total independence to handle the contest.
Last week, a public letter published in the British daily newspaper The Guardian, signed by 140 musicians and other artists from some 14 countries, called for a boycott of Eurovision because it is being held in Israel. “Until Palestinians can enjoy freedom, justice and equal rights, there should be no business-as-usual with the state that is denying them their basic rights,” the letter said.
Six Israelis, including five Israeli musicians and one artist, signed the letter.
CAP: In this May 12, 2018 file photo, Netta Barzilai from Israel celebrates after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal. The Eurovision Song Contest has announced that next year’s competition will be held in Tel Aviv. The government initially insisted on holding the popular event in Jerusalem. But following a backlash over the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and a subsequent fear of boycotts it dropped the demand. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)