One of my absolute favourite Eurovision nations, Israel has provided so many great songs over the years, I had to make this a top 10 rather than a top 5. In fact, I could have done a top 15 – as two of their three winners miss out on the top 10, that’s how strong in depth their Eurovision back catalogue is!
Israel has such a rich and mixed tradition of music – both Jewish and non-Jewish, and from the Middle East itself, but also from Russia, Eastern Europe, Iberia and modern Western. They’ve given us so many folk or ethno influenced uptempo “party bangers”, Eurovision wouldn’t be the same without them and I’m delighted that they will be back in 2018 when it looked like they might have had to leave after the closure of their national broadcaster in 2017.
Just missing out
I have to make a mention of these 5 songs, as they would be in my top 15 – and they contain two of Israel’s winners:
15. Gali Atari & Milk and Honey “Hallelujah” (1979, winner, 157 points)
14. Hovi Star “Made of Stars” (2016, 14th place, 135 points)
13. Shiri Maimon “HaSheket SheNish’ar” (2005, 4th place, 154 points)
12. Izhar Cohen & the Alphabeta “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” (1978, winner, 157 points)
11. Dafna Dekel “Ze Rak Sport” (1992, 6th place, 85 points)
10. Izhar Cohen “Olé, Olé” (1985, 5th place, 93 points)
Izhar Cohen won Eurovision in 1978 for Israel but it’s his second effort that makes the top 5. If you can look past the 1980s outfits, this is classic Israel in Eurovision – distinctly Israeli, uptempo, and a super catchy chorus. It’s a formula that you’ll see several times over in this top 10 – yes, it’s a genre I like a lot!
9. IMRI “I Feel Alive” (2017, 23rd place, 39 points)
Israel’s most recent entry, Imri finally got the chance to be the main artist after singing as backing singer in 2015 and 2016. It’s firmly in the “party banger” tradition of Israel and includes those distinctive Middle Eastern sounds especially at the 2m15 mark. Great staging also helped, and of course Imri himself – you’ll be hard pushed to find a Eurovision contestant that is easier on the eye!
8. Chocolate, Menta, Mastik “Emor Shalom” (1976, 6th place, 77 points)
Another uptempo song with a great chorus – the Israeli speciality! A bit of a 70s feel to this of course, it maintained Israel’s impressive results in the contest.
7. Nadav Guedj “Golden Boy” (2015, 9th place, 97 points)
Nadav was just 16 when he danced and sung his way to a top 10 finish in Vienna. They feed them well in Israel is all I can say! It was Israel’s best result in ten years and well deserved. As Graham Norton said on the night “if that didn’t put a smile on yourself, you are dead inside”!
6. Ofra Haza “Hi” (1983, 2nd place, 136 points)
Israel had a great record in the contest in the 1970s and 1980s. Two wins, and two second places in the space of 6 years and this second place entry came within just a few points of making it another win for Israel. Once again, it has all the classic ingredients of an Israeli entry – uptempo, chorus, distinctly Israeli. Sadly Ofra, known as the “Israeli Madonna” and a Grammy Award nominee, died at just 42 years old in 2000, of AIDS-related pneumonia.
5. Duo Datz “Kan” (1991, 3rd place, 139 points)
Married couple Duo Datz (now divorced) brought yet more Israeli success in 1991 with another catchy uptempo song (this is the theme of the top 10 if you haven’t noticed!).
4. Ilanit “Ey Sham” (1973, 4th place, 97 points)
Israel’s debut at the contest came in 1973 – one of Eurovision’s strongest ever contests (the Eurovision of Anne-Marie David’s win, Cliff Richard’s second time in the contest, and Eres tu) so this strong 4th place at their first attempt is all the more impressive. It’s well deserved though, with a very strong and well performed song by Ilanit, one of Israel’s most successful singers with a four decade long career.
3. Avi Toledano “Hora” (1982, 2nd place, 100 points)
Listening to this it feels like you are in the heart of a big Jewish party and having a great time! It’s probably the epitome of that Israeli format that I like so much. It was up against Nicole so its chances of winning were rather curtailed but it came a good second and is a true Eurovision classic.
2. Dana International “Diva” (1998, winner, 172 points)
A groundbreaking win and it’s one of those Eurovision wins, songs, moments that made an impact with the wider public. Even before the contest, there was huge publicity around this – not least the fact of Dana International being transsexual. She blazed a trail and even now, with transphobia still so prevalent in the media, her victory remains a stand out moment and one of those things that show that this contest does indeed stand for diversity and inclusivity. And of course the song itself has become an instant Eurovision classic! It was the last year where countries had to sing in one of their official languages and consequently it wasn’t until 2007 that a non-English song next won Eurovision.
1. Bo’az Ma’uda “The Fire In Your Eyes” (2008, 9th place, 124 points)
Given my love of uptempo Israeli songs, this might be a surprising number one, being a ballad. But what a ballad! And it has that Israeli/Middle Eastern sound in it as well (especially in the latter part of song) and is so hauntingly and powerfully sung by the gorgeous Bo’az, it has to be Israeli number one. It managed to be placed in the top 10 in the last year of public vote only, and I think it would have done even better (and deservedly better) in the current structure of 50/50 jury/public vote.
Well I hope you enjoyed this list as much as I did – it really proved how many great songs Israel have put in over the years, and continue to do so. Do let me know what your top would have been and if I’ve missed any you would have included.