Appearing to back off Kan split, PM says government will follow Eurovision rules

Netanyahu says he wants to check details relating to screening of competition before making decision about spinning news division off local public broadcaster

Israel's Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/Francisco Leong)
Israel's Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/Francisco Leong)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that his government would follow the guidelines from the European organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest to ensure it could be hosted in Israel next year.

The statement from the prime minister appeared to signal that he would back down from a plan to split Israel’s public broadcaster between news and entertainment division that could put Israel’s ability to host the contest at risk.

“The government will act according to European Broadcasting Union rules,” Netanyahu said according to a statement from his office.

He added that authorities still needed to work out legal matters regarding a planned reorganization of the Kan public broadcaster that could also put Israel’s participation in the song contest at risk.

The statement came after Netanyahu met on Monday with Culture Minister Miri Regev, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Regev, who was left out of a previous meeting on the matter, has pushed for greater government control over the show, including insisting it be held in Jerusalem and calling for the government to have say over segments broadcast between songs which are often used to present the host country to the world.

After the meeting, Kara tweeted that the government would not meddle in the song contest, essentially rebuffing Regev.

In arguing that Kan cannot be trusted with sole control over the show, Regev has floated the false claim that its presenter at the 2018 contest, Arab Israeli Lucy Ayoub, opened her remarks in Arabic. In fact, she spoke in English and Hebrew before saying several words in Arabic.

Israel earned the right to host the contest after Israeli Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision event.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regev had declared that Israel should not host the event at all if it is not held in Jerusalem, after European organizers reportedly expressed misgivings over the site as a way to politicize of the show.

Earlier this month, Regev’s insistence on holding a planned soccer match between Israel and Argentina in Jerusalem was cited as a main factor in its cancellation, and raised fears that similar pressure to locate the Eurovision contest in Jerusalem could boost Israel boycott efforts.

Officials from the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, have said they have no issue with the show being in Jerusalem, so long as the city is chosen through a fair bidding process.

Four cities are reportedly vying for hosting rights: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat. The contest was hosted in Jerusalem in 1979 and 1999.

Jerusalem is not recognized as Israel’s capital city by most of the international community, which maintains that the city’s status should be determined between Israel and the Palestinians through negotiations. Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state while Israel sees the united city as its eternal capital.

Some fear holding the show in Jerusalem could increase pressure on artists or countries to boycott the show.

Also putting Israel’s hosting rights at risk is a push by Netanyahu to split Israel’s public broadcaster into news and non-news divisions. If approved by the High Court of Justice, the country could lose its eligibility to host next year’s event. Under EBU rules, the public broadcaster in each participating country must have a news division attached.

On Thursday, the EBU sent a letter warning that if Kan is split, Israel’s membership will be reconsidered, possibly preventing the contest from being held in the Jewish state in 2019 as planned, The Marker reported.

Israel’s singer Netta Barzilai aka Netta performs “Toy” during the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. / (AFP / Francisco LEONG)

The financial news website published a copy of the letter, sent by EBU chief Noel Curran to Kan chairman Gil Omer and director general Eldad Koblenz, after they asked for an update on their membership status in the EBU.

In the letter, Curran said Kan currently has interim membership in the EBU, and that the status could be extended next week until the “resolution” of the pending legislation to split the broadcaster.

If that legislation is approved by the High Court and passed, the EBU director general wrote, “the EBU may have reservations about membership on that basis and a new membership application would be required and subject to thorough reexamination by all the EBU governing bodies.”

Possibly hinting that the reapplication would have a slim chance of being approved if the split is effected, Curran added: “We are not aware of any PSM [public service media] organization that operates the news in a totally separate entity with a separate governance.”

According to The Marker, the government wants to go ahead with the split and — if the High Court approves the measure — issue a temporary 12- to 18-month delay on its implementation in order to let Israel host the contest.

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