The 2018 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Israel’s ‘gay capital’ of Tel Aviv.
Israel is set to host the camp pan-European music contest in 2019 following the victory of Netta with anthem “Toy.”
Senior Israeli politicians had called for the contest to be held in Jerusalem, the country’s disputed capital and the epicentre of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
However, Eurovision bosses announced on Thursday that the contest would instead be held in the nearby city of Tel Aviv.
The European Broadcasting Union’s decision came after organisers publicly raised fears that the 24/7 rehearsals and preparations required for the contest may not be possible in Jerusalem due to the strict adherence to Shabbat (day of prayer) among the city’s religious community.
Often referred to as the gay capital of the Middle East, Tel Aviv is home to a thriving LGBT+ community. The city’s annual Pride festival is the largest Pride celebration in the region, and attracts thousands of visitors from across the world.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai emphasised the city’s gay-friendly credentials to Eurovision organisers, writing: “The city of Tel Aviv will be honored to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest.
“Our beloved city has gained international esteem as an open city, a welcoming home to the LGBT community and many other minorities. Tel Aviv-Yafo is a global city that respects all people—residents and visitors.”
The event will be held at the Tel Aviv Convention Center. The semi-finals will take place on May 14 and 16, 2019, and the Grand Final will take place on Saturday, May 18, 2019.
Jon Ola Sand, the EBU’s executive supervisor for the Eurovision Song Contest, said: “We’d like to thank all the Israeli cities who bid to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, and KAN who conducted an expert and thorough assessment to help us make the final decision.
“All the bids were exemplary but in the end we decided that Tel Aviv provides the best overall setup for the world’s largest live music event.
“We are excited to bring the Contest to a brand new city and are looking forward to working together with KAN to make 2019’s Eurovision Song Contest the most spectacular one yet.”
Frank-Dieter Freiling, chairman of the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group, said: “We look forward to working with KAN to bring the Contest to Tel Aviv for the first time.
“We are expecting to receive guarantees from the Prime Minister this week in regards to the security and freedom of movement of anyone coming to the event.
“These guarantees are imperative in order for us to move forward with the planning of the event to ensure the safety of visitors and upholding the Eurovision Song Contest values of diversity and inclusivity.”
There have already been calls to boycott the contest due to its presence in Israel, which may have been heightened if a Jerusalem venue was selected as host.
Irish political party Sinn Féin urged the country to boycott the contest, saying that “the Eurovision Song Contest should not be used as a tool for Israel to whitewash its daily human rights abuse.”
The contest earned an unlikely defender in Arlene Foster of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who is hardly a natural fan of the campy musical contest given her party’s evangelical views.
Foster tweeted: “Not content with boycotting Westminster, the [Northern Ireland] Assembly and the Executive – Sinn Féin now want to boycott the Eurovision!! You couldn’t make it up!!!”