Culture minister caught in false claim in bid for influence over Eurovision
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Culture minister caught in false claim in bid for influence over Eurovision

Miri Regev says public broadcaster can’t be trusted with 2019 event, because this year its presenter’s opening remarks were in Arabic; they weren’t

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press conference regarding the cancellation of a soccer match between Argentina and Israel, in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press conference regarding the cancellation of a soccer match between Argentina and Israel, in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who is reportedly seeking influence over next year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Israel despite the organizers’ warnings against politicizing the event, was caught making a false claim while arguing for the necessity of her ministry’s involvement in the production.

Amid an ongoing battle over the nature of the production, a TV report said Saturday that Regev has been demanding that Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, coordinate programming for the 2019 contest with the government. She is reportedly seeking for the government to be involved in the production of the introductory segments, with each participating artist filmed in Israel.

The report said this was due to the lack of trust between Regev and the public broadcaster, which is tasked with organizing the contest.

One argument made by Regev for her demand relates to the opening statement at this year’s Eurovision voting phase, in which she claimed Kan employee Lucy Ayoub, an Arab Israeli, had greeted hosts and viewers with the words ahlan wa sahlan, Arabic for “welcome.”

“When the broadcast was handed over to Israel at the Eurovision in Portugal, they received the broadcast with the first words: ahlan wa sahlan,” Regev told lawmakers last week from the Knesset plenum. “It is an amazing word, but in the State of Israel, we begin with the word ‘Shalom.'”

But Ayoub in fact did not open her remarks that evening in Arabic, and when she did speak in Arabic, she didn’t say ahlan wa sahlan, instead using the greeting marhaba.

“Good evening,” Ayoub first told the hosts in English, a recording of the broadcast showed, before adding, “Good evening Lisbon,” in Hebrew.

Only then did Ayoub say a few words in Arabic, meaning: “Hello, good evening Europe.”

Left-wing activists expressed outrage after the minister’s false claim was prominently reported on the Hadashot TV newscast on Saturday. Activists for the Meretz party on Sunday put up banners in front of her house reading, “Marhaba and Masaa al-Khair,” the Arabic words said by Ayoub, followed by the words “Miri, get out of our Eurovision” in Hebrew.

Arab Israeli TV and radio host Lucy Ayoub. (CC-BY-SA-4.0 Image courtesy of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation/Wikipedia)

Ayoub, a 26-year-old TV and radio host for Kan, was born and raised in Haifa by an Arab-Christian father and a mother who converted to Christianity from Judaism. Her maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. She served in the Israeli air force.

Regev has previously declared that Israel should not host the event at all if it is not held in Jerusalem, after European organizers reportedly expressed misgivings over a possible politicization of the show.

Israel won the right to host the contest after Israeli singer Netta Barzilai swept the 2018 Eurovision event with the song “Toy.”

A spokesperson for Regev told Hadashot following Saturday’s report that she had no intention of interfering in the contest’s programming, but would still have a role because of state funding organizers receive.

“The minister has clarified her personal stance on the matter — the Eurovision competition is an opportunity to express the beautiful and diverse Israeli society, in the form of segments broadcast between the songs in the competition,” the spokesperson said. The song contest usually introduces each artist with a segment meant to highlight an aspect of the host country, often used as a powerful tourism marketing tool.

Netta Barzilai celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Lisbon, Portugal, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

“Furthermore, coordination between the government and the broadcasting authority is needed in order to invest public funds in the competition and the broadcasting corporation,” the spokesperson added, saying any decision ultimately rests with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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

Hadashot news quoted officials from the European Broadcasting Union last week warning Israeli politicians to stop issuing public remarks about the prospective location of the song contest, since it invites pressure from organizations opposed to holding the competition in Jerusalem.

A TV report last week said the Israeli government had decided it will not intervene in determining the location of next year’s contest, amid fears that loose-lipped ministers could torpedo Israel’s chance at hosting the event altogether if they continue to publicly insist on holding it in the nation’s capital.

Four cities are reportedly vying for hosting rights: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat.

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 through negotiations by Israel and the Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city as capital of their future state.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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