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Everything you need to know about this year's Eurovision Song Contest

This year’s competition is being held – controversially – in Tel Aviv, Israel.

WELL, IT’S HERE. Eurovision 2019. 

For some, it’s time to break out the sequins and tune into the dulcet tones of presenter Marty Whelan for the annual music competition. 

Yet this year’s contest – hosted by Israel, – has proven controversial, overshadowed by months of protest and calls for a boycott. 

Amid heightened security on the ground and letters of concern to national broadcaster RTÉ, TheJournal.ie has put together a guide to this year’s contentious contest and how things will play out on the night in Tel Aviv. 

Why Israel? 

Well, Israel’s Netta Barzilai was crowned Eurovision winner last year with her song ‘Toy’.  The hit landed her an impressive 529 points.

Netta is back on stage in Tel Aviv performing last year’s winner as the opener for this year’s competition. 

Source: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube

Following her chicken-dancing win last year, the Israeli singer proclaimed “Next year in Jerusalem!”

So why is the contest in Tel Aviv?

Jerusalem – specifically the Israeli government’s efforts to have its recognised as the capital – has been contentious for years. 

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – as well as state baroadcaster KAN – wanted Eurovision 2019 to be held in the city to further cement global recognition of the city as Israel’s capital – bolstered by US President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital including the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

But after backlash over that decision and the threat of anti-occupation international boycotts, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided on Tel Aviv for Eurovision 2019. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself has been raging for over half a century.  

Despite a truce in recent days to stop fighting in Gaza, brokered by Egypt, calls for a boycott of Eurovision 2019 have grown louder as the competition draws near and will likely continue right up to next week’s final.

Who has been calling for a boycott? 

Back home in Ireland members of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) have called for a Eurovision boycott. Globally, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been calling for countries to not participate this year. 

Between June and December last year, representatives of the national broadcaster RTÉ and the Irish branch of the Eurovision responded to emails and letters from those for and against a boycott. This began before Ireland confirmed its participation in this year’s competition, and continued afterwards. 

Tel Aviv Tel Aviv, Israel has proven a controversial location for Eurovision 2019 Source: DPA/PA Images

Of course, it’s not the first time Israel has hosted the Eurovision. 

The country previously hosted the competition in 1979 and 1999. The country won the competition in 1978 with Ireland’s Colm Wilkinson placing fifth with ‘Born to Sing’.

In 1998, Israel came first again in the Eurovision when Dana International won with ‘Diva’ while Ireland’s entry ‘Is Always Over Now?’ performed by Dawn Martin came ninth. 

Nor is it the first time a nation has called for a boycott or withdrawn for geopolitical reasons

Rarely a year went by in the late 1970s without Greece, Turkey or some other nation withdrawing from the contest for geopolitical reasons. 

Indeed, many Arab states who are entitled to take part under EBU rules have a longstanding policy of non-participation in the annual event – largely because of Israel’s presence. 

Two years after Eurovision 1999, the IPSC was established to raise awareness about the Occupied Territories and Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

On 30 August last year, the IPSC wrote to RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes and Irish Eurovision delegation head Michael Kealy requesting a meeting to discuss this year’s Eurovision in Israel.

Meanwhile, RTÉ has said it won’t sanction staff members who do not wish to travel to Israel for this year’s competition and has said that its coverage of the event will include reporting on the ongoing conflict. 

The IPSC  has so far garnered over 15,000 signatures calling for an Irish boycott of the competition. Yet, that’s unlikely to happen at this late stage.

Why’s that? 

RTÉ has consistently held the line that the Eurovision is a non-political event and that no member of the EBU is boycotting this year’s competition. 

The broadcaster received enquiries from two Israeli media outlets and one German media outlet last October requesting additional comments on RTÉ’s position. These were turned down by RTÉ’s press office.

Protest. Fatin Al Tamimi, National Chairperson with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign Source: PA Wires/PA Images

In late December, members of IPSC once again called on RTÉ to not broadcast Eurovision events in “Israel’s illegal settlements, including those in occupied East Jerusalem. This is the least RTÉ should do to be in line with international law and European policy.”

RTÉ responded once again by pointing out that the Eurovision is a non-political event organised and run by the European Broadcasting Union which has sought assurances from the Israeli state regarding security and access for all to attend. 

In March, members of the IPSC protested at Montrose on the day Sarah McTernan was announced as Ireland’s 2019 Eurovision entry.

Shortly after, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland praised RTÉ for holding firm saying protesters have a record of trying to “hijack” cultural and sporting events for political reasons.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Ambassador Ophir Kariv said he was glad RTÉ had been “strong in its position that this is a big cultural event and that politics should not be involved in it”. 

So, what’s the situation on the ground? 

The Israeli state has beefed up security ahead of next week’s competition.

The EBU also said last week that the security of Eurovision contestants was paramount and that it was working with state broadcaster KAN as well as the Israeli army to monitor the situation.

Israel has said it won’t allow in activists who plan to disrupt Eurovision 2019 by blocking them from entering the country. 

Following the recent Gaza truce, some have speculated that Eurovision could help ease tensions in the region. 

“A Eurovision contest might actually have saved the parties from escalating,” Tareq Baconi, analyst with the International Crisis Group, has said. 

“But I think a war is more likely than ever after Netanyahu forms his government, and that what we have seen in the past few days won’t necessarily be forgotten.”

Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council of Foreign Relations think-tank, agrees that tensions remain high ahead of Eurovision 2019. 

“There is little reason to believe that this new understanding reached between Hamas and Israel will be any different, or any longer lasting, than the previous deals reached over the past months,” he said.

“Absent a more permanent political solution for Gaza we will likely see renewed flare-ups of violence.”

What’s the Irish government advice? 

The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised Irish people to “exercise a high degree of caution” if travelling to Israel and the Occupied Territories.

“We advise strongly against all travel to the Gaza Strip,” according to the DFA website. 

In other words, don’t visit the Gaza Strip, which is the self-governing Palestinian territory at the heart of the conflict. 

“In the event that you encounter difficulties, any assistance that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or our Embassy may be able to provide is likely to be extremely limited,” the DFA has said. 

The Irish Embassy is located in Tel Aviv where this year’s Eurovision is being held.

Safety tips issued by the government for people travelling to Israel include:

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities.
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency.
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates.
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide.

So, who are we sending?

Flying the flag for Ireland this year is Co Clare native Sarah McTernan . 

RTÉ put a call-out for potential Eurovision contenders late last year and after whittling down submissions plumped for McTernan whose song ’22′ was written by songwriters Janieck, Marcia “Misha” Sondeijker and Roulsen.

Here’s what it sounds like…

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

Does she have a shot at the title?

RTÉ’s Eurovision delegation will be hoping the 25-year-old will impress people across the continent but, for now, bookies have McTernan down the list of likely contenders for this year’s crown. 

She’s currently at 33/1 to reach the Top 10 in the final. 

Of course, McTernan still needs to make it past the semi-final on 16 May before the main event kicks off on Saturday. 

What’s up with the semi-finals, so?

There are two semi-finals – Tuesday evening and Thursday evening. 

On Tuesday, Eurovision veterans Portugal, Greece and Belgium will compete on stage with more recent competitors San Marino and Montenegro. 

Ireland, meanwhile, are up against (amongst others) Russia, Malta and Sweden in Thursday night’s semi-final. 

The top ten from each night’s selection go through to join the Eurovision ‘big five’ plus hosts Israel in the final.

Wait. Who are ‘The Big Five’?

The UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

They always have automatic places in the decider, as they pony-up most of the money for the event every year.

Who’s tipped to win?

Duncan Laurence is tipped to be crowned winner for the Netherlands this year, with anthemic song ‘Arcade’.

25-year-old Laurence is a relative unknown but he’s hoping to take home the title this year for the Netherlands for the first time since 1975 when Teach-In won the competition with ‘Ding-a-dong’.

Keep a close eye on Russia, Italy and Azerbaijan, though, who are all hotly tipped behind Laurence and his power ballad.

Source: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube

And who’s in the commentary box this year?

As usual, Eurovision veteran Marty Whelan has the week’s festivities covered for RTÉ. Graham Norton is back on duty for the BBC.

This will be Whelan’s 21st year in the commentary box.

What’s the deal with the voting system? 

As per the three previous contests, each country’s scores will be made up of 50% of a public vote and 50% of a jury vote.

As per last year, the votes will now be split: each country’s jury vote will be announced first, and votes from viewers in all countries will be combined – to be revealed at a final announcement.

Confused?

Here’s a video explainer…

Source: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube

Finally, when’s it on?

The first semi-final airs on Tuesday at 8pm on RTÉ Two, while the second semi-final kicks of at the same time on Thursday. 

The big finale is next Saturday at 8pm on RTÉ One.

And remember Eurovision 2014 winner Conchita Wurst? Of course you do. Well she’ll be performing the song ‘Heroes’ which won Sweden Eurovison in 2015 in her native Austria. 

Oh, and one more thing. 

This year’s final opener is a proper blast from the past as Dana International takes to the stage in Tel Aviv to perform her Eurovision 1998-winning song ‘Diva’.

Here’s a reminder of how that went down 21 years ago. 

Source: romania3/YouTube

With reporting from © AFP 2019

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