Tonight, the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 will be held in Expo Tel Aviv in Israel, thanks to Netta’s victory in Lisbon last year with the song “Toy”. Kobi Marimi will represent Israel on home ground tonight with the song “Home”. Despite not being located in Europe, Israel has been competing in the contest since 1973 and has won the contest on four occasions. But how did a country in Asia get to take part in a European contest?
European Broadcasting Area
For a country to be eligible to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest, they must have a public broadcaster that is part of the European Broadcasting Union. In order to join the EBU, a country must lie within the European Broadcasting Area. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU):
The “European Broadcasting Area” is bounded on the west by the western boundary of Region 1, on the east by the meridian 40° East of Greenwich and on the south by the parallel 30° North so as to include the northern part of Saudi Arabia and that part of those countries bordering the Mediterranean within these limits. In addition, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and those parts of the territories of Iraq, Jordan, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and Ukraine lying outside the above limits are included in the European Broadcasting Area.
Region 1 is one of the three divisions of the ITU. It covers Europe, Africa, the former Soviet Union, Mongolia and the Middle East west of the Persian Gulf. The European Broadcasting Area uses some of these definitions. The borders have been moved throughout time, most recently in 2007, when Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were allowed in. The three countries then went on to debut in the Eurovision Song Contest, with Azerbaijan winning in 2011.
Israel has always been within the European Broadcasting Area, which allowed the former Israeli national broadcaster, Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), to join the EBU in 1957. After the IBA was shut down in 2017, KAN took over the organisation of Israel’s participation in the contest. KAN was granted full EBU membership in December 2018.
Many Arab countries that are eligible to participate in the contest (including Algeria, Libya and Egypt) refuse to do so because of Israel. Tunisia was due to participate in 1977, even being drawn to perform fourth. However, they withdrew giving no official reason, though it is widely speculated that Israel’s participation was to blame. Three years later, Israel had to withdraw because the contest date clashed with their Remembrance Day. In the same year, Morocco made their first, and so far only appearance at the contest, with Samira Said finishing second last with “Bitaqat Hub”. Once Israel announced their return to the contest the following year, Morocco promptly withdrew.
For the contest’s 50th running, Lebanon announced that it would be making its debut at the contest. The Lebanese broadcaster, Télé-Liban internally selected Aline Lahoud to sing “Quand tout s’enfuit”. Unfortunately, there was the small problem of Israel. Lebanese law forbids any transmission of Israeli material and the rules of the contest state that all broadcasters must broadcast all competing songs in their entirety. Unable to promise broadcasting the Israeli entry, Lebanon were forced to withdraw and were banned for three years from competing. They have made no attempt to return as of yet.