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Hallelujah! The best of Israel at Eurovision

14 July 2017 at 17:05 CEST
This year marked Israel's 40th participation in the Eurovision Song Contest since their debut in 1973, and now it's time to pay tribute to their biggest successes in the history of the competition. Shalom!

Israel made its first Eurovision Song Contest appearance in 1973 amidst controversy as it was the first non-European country that was granted permission to participate in the event. The EBU allowed Israel to participate since the country's broadcaster was already one of its members.

With Israel participating, the security around the contest was unusually tight for that time and special measures were put in place for the Israeli delegation. For their first participation they chose the popular singer Ilanit who performed last that evening in Luxembourg with the song Ey Sham (Somewhere), reaching 4th place, and featuring in our Top 10 Israeli entries. 

Striking gold in Paris

Israel showed strong interest in the competition from the very beginning and it paid off very soon, as they managed to win for the first time, in Paris in 1978, thanks to the disco beats of A-Ba-Ni-Bi and the lively performance of Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta. It was the sixth time that Israel had participated in the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite criticism of the lyrics, which were deemed childish by some, the song became an international hit. When it was obvious that Israel would win, the broadcasting company of Jordan stopped the live broadcast claiming they had technical difficulties. A day later they presented the song from Belgium - which came second - as the winning song. Izhar would return to Eurovision in 1985 placing 5th with Ole Ole, which narrowly missed out on a place in our Top 10.

1979 was the first time that the Eurovision Song Contest was held outside the geographical area of Europe. Jerusalem played the proud host to the annual event and even if Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) had only recently started to broadcast in colour, the organisation of the contest was met with great reviews. The voting climax that year was unforgettable: Spain was the last country to cast its votes. At that moment Spain was in the lead 1 point ahead of Israel, but the Spanish 10 points gave Israel its second victory with the song Hallelujah which became another international hit.

Israeli TV declined the opportunity to host the show twice in succession and Dutch broadcaster NOS stepped in and staged the contest in The Hague. The date chosen for the 1980 contest, 19th of April, was Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel, so the defending champion decided not to participate which marked the only time when the winning country of one Eurovision Song Contest did not return to defend its title the following year.

The runner-ups

It didn’t take long until Israel was back in the competition in 1981 and while they placed 7th in their comeback, it is their songs in 1982 and 1983 that bring them back to our Top 10. Ranking 2nd in the contest, both songs were written by Avi Toledano, himself performing the first one in Harrogate (UK), Hora, while upcoming world music star, Ofra Haza sang Hi in Munich (Germany). The two songs also included their now famous dance routines which made Israel's performances some of the most recogisable among the other contestants.

Over the following years Israel kept on sending some of their biggest pop stars, like Yardena Arazi (1988) or Rita (1990), but it was in 1991 when they came close to winning the contest again. Even though Sweden and France were the ones tying for the first place, Israel’s Duo Datz were up for the victory with their song, Kan, right until the last vote. In our Top 10 they rank at #7.

Diva brings us on a journey to Jerusalem

The 1990s were a bit of a mixed bag for Israel but their victory in 1998 is one of the most memorable. Ranking at #1 in our Top 10, the Diva, Dana International won the contest in the first year where televoting was used to decide the winner in the majority of countries. The victory sent out a powerful message of acceptance and shows that Europe was perhaps a more open-minded place than previously though. To date Dana International remains the first and only openly transgendered person to have won the Eurovision Song Contest.

The 1999 Eurovision Song Contest took place in Jerusalem for the first time since 1979, and the host country was in a mood to celebrate as it coincided with their 50th anniversary as a nation. The commemorative entry, Happy Birthday, performed by boy group Eden, placed 5th and features in our Top 10 (#8). To date, it is the only Eurovision song with such lyrics, making it a popular choice amongst fans when it comes to celebrating birthdays.

What's another year?

Since 2000 two more songs have made our Top 10, one of them written by none other than Dana International. Despite her return to the contest as a participant in 2011 with Ding Dong (watch below) it is her 2008 penned song The Fire In Your Eyes that just makes it to #10 as Boaz Mauda took it to #9 in Belgrade in a field of 43 songs.

Israel recently matched that result, with Nadav Guedj in 2015 in Vienna but, in our Top 10, the Golden Boy just fails to enter, placing at #11:

Israel’s most successful entry in recent years was their 2005 effort, Hasheket Shenish’ar, which ranked 4th in Kyiv after a breathtaking performance by Shiri Maymon. She makes #6 in our Top.

In total Israel has participated a total of 40 times and they missed out on a place in the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo (not counted as an official entry). 34 of these songs have been performed in the Grand Final and 19 of them have finished in the Top 10. Israel has never finished in last place in the Grand Final or in the Semi-Finals of the Eurovision Song Contest and the country has qualified for the Grand Final in the last three consecutive competitions. Israel's latest entry, I Feel Alive, performed by IMRI, was their 40th entry in the Eurovision Song Contest and opened the Grand Final in Kyiv in May. 

New adventures await Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, this time with a new broadcaster: the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC). Further details about Israel's participation in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest will be announced soon.