Tens of thousands of Israelis flooded the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv for the screening of the second semifinal on Thursday night, prompting police to plead with the public to stop coming due to fears of overcrowding.
Behind the crush may have been Tel Aviv’s decision to combine the city’s annual White Night Festival, an all-night party with cultural events happening across the city from sundown to sunrise, with the second Eurovision semifinal.
With dozens of large screens, food stalls, and vendor booths, Charles Clore Park next to the Mediterranean Sea was transformed into a pulsating festival of light and music. Tens of thousands of people spread across the grass to watch the song competition’s quirky performances, although the overwhelming consensus was that Israel’s entry, Kobi Marimi, would not fare well in the competition.
“We came for the atmosphere, and also because it’s White Night, we decided to combine everything together and come into the city,” said Yafit Bar, who works for the Ministry of Social Welfare’s senior citizen division and is from Mazkeret Batya.
Bar said that although she didn’t see a lot of tourists at the Eurovision Village, it was still good publicity for Israel. “It’s a great opportunity to show off our culture,” she said. “People think if they come to Tel Aviv they’ll see explosions, but they come here and it’s just fun fun fun.”
“I came because I heard it’s nice, we heard there are lots of beautiful people here, but the truth is we haven’t found any tourists, so if you see any, let us know” said Hila Vidal, a Rehovot native who works in insurance.
Across town, 18 acts were competing for 10 spots in Saturday’s final before a sold out crowd of locals and yes, tourists, at the Tel Aviv Expo venue.
On the Tel Aviv Municipality facade, normally reserved for showing solidarity with countries after terror attacks, lights changed to reflect competing countries. The Jaffa sea wall got into the color-changing spirit as well.
The Eurovision Village opened on May 12 and is hosting performances from Israeli artists including Static and Ben El, Balkan Beat Box, ABBA and Beatles cover bands, and Eurovision superstars Dana International and Izhar Cohen.
Additionally, the village is also hosting the Tel Aviv Eat Festival, with over 500 dishes and 80 food stalls from some of Israel’s hottest restaurants and chefs.
Tel Aviv resident Ariel Schwartz said the Eurovision Village’s organization was “a little confusing and disorganized,” but thought overall the song competition was a good thing for the country. “We really need to expose the world to the tourism opportunities here,” he said.
He said that he appreciated that the city had really invested a lot of effort and money into the Eurovision week.
Others were more critical. “If there’s so much of a budget for all of these Eurovision events, why can’t there be more of a budget for kids and needs and Holocaust survivors?” asked Gal, a Tel Aviv resident who declined to give her last name. “There’s clearly enough money.”
The contest is expected to be costing the Kan public broadcaster some NIS 114 million, only some of which it will likely be able to recoup through ticket sales, sponsorships and tourist spending.
Those on a tighter budget than the broadcaster could hit up the “Tel Aviv for 10 shekels” promotion being pushed by the city, through which participating bars and restaurants will offer food and drink specials for just NIS 10 during the week of Eurovision.