TEL AVIV – Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park was abuzz as more than 70,000 tourists and Israelis gathered to watch the grand finale of the Eurovision Song Contest Saturday night.
Apart from performances by finalists from 26 countries, the extravaganza featured numbers by pop sensation Madonna, Israeli artist Idan Raichel, and an array of former Eurovision winners including Netta Barzilai, who sung a catchy new song, “Nana Banana.”
The show’s choice of hosts was a nod to Israel’s pluralism, with gay TV personality Assi Azar and rising Arab-Israeli star Lucy Ayoub joining supermodel Bar Refaeli and Erez Tal.
The show also featured a clip by Gal Gadot showing off Tel Aviv.
— KAN Eurovision Israel (@kaneurovision) May 18, 2019
While the song by Israel’s own entrant, Kobi Marimi, received mostly negative reviews, the country was praised for pulling out all the stops production-wise.
“It was an amazing production,” Israeli actor Orna Banai told Army Radio. “We’re good at whatever we try our hand at.”
Meanwhile revelers at this year’s Eurovillage — a specially built compound where Eurovision fans can enjoy the festivities, watch live performances and see the actual shows on huge screens — were stunned at its magnitude.
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai had promised that 2019’s Eurovillage would be the biggest in the contest’s history and he did not disappoint. According to Tony and Renata, avid Eurovision fans from Croatia who attend the contest every year, Tel Aviv’s Eurovillage was the biggest they had witnessed.
Luke Marcus, a tourist from Lincoln, UK, said he would have never thought of coming to Tel Aviv had it not been for Eurovision.
“I’m so glad I did,” Marcus told Breitbart News. “It’s been wicked. Israelis have been really friendly and they definitely know how to party!”
Asked if he thought the UK’s entrant, Michael Rice, had a chance at winning, Marcus laughed, “Not in a million years. Anyway, serves us right. Europeans hate us now with Brexit and all that.”
The UK ended up finishing last in the contest, which drew 200 million viewers worldwide.
The Netherlands won with the song “Arcade” performed by Duncan Laurence.
Madonna was critiqued for singing off key, but that didn’t stop tens of thousands of people bopping to her 1989 hit “Like a Prayer.”
She sparked controversy when two of her backup dancers sported Palestinian and Israeli flags during her second song, “Future,” violating the contest’s rules to abstain from politics.
According to the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, the inclusion of Israeli and Palestinian flags in the show was not approved in advance and was not in the rehearsals.
“Two of Madonna’s dancers briefly displayed the Israeli and Palestinian flags on the back of their outfits,” a statement from the union said.
“This element of the performance was not part of the rehearsals which had been cleared,” the union said. “The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna had been made aware of this.”
Iceland’s representative, an anti-capitalist bondage-clad group called Hatari, had vowed to use the Eurovision stage to make a statement against “Israel’s occupation” as well as bring down global capitalism. On the night, they too managed to break the rules by waving Palestinian flag banners when the camera homed on in on them.