Culture minister: Israel will host 2019 Eurovision in Jerusalem or not at all

After Argentina soccer cancellation, Miri Regev says it’s ‘not right’ to spend NIS 50 million of public funds on song competition if not held in Israeli capital

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press at the ministry offices in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press at the ministry offices in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev has threatened to withdraw Israel as host of next year’s Eurovision if the annual song competition is not held in Jerusalem out of political considerations.

“I will recommend to the government that if the Eurovision is not in Jerusalem, then it wouldn’t be right to host it,” she told public broadcaster Kan on Thursday morning.

“It will cost Israel NIS 50 million ($14 million) and is designed to market the country,” she said. “So I personally say, if the Eurovision won’t be held in Jerusalem, it’s not right to invest the NIS 50 million in public funds.”

“The state of Israel has a capital, it’s called Jerusalem, and we should not be ashamed of it,” she added.

Regev’s threat comes days after Argentina’s national soccer team canceled a friendly game in Jerusalem after a concerted Palestinian campaign urged the team to boycott the Jewish state and after the players received threats.

The Likud minister, who had been criticized over a decision to move the match venue from Haifa to Jerusalem, insisted on Wednesday that threats of violence, rather than pressure by Israel boycott activists, had prompted the cancellation.

Also Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed concern that the scrapped Argentina game could portend future cancellations of cultural events in the Jewish state.

“I hope this will not affect other areas,” he said in London. “We must prepare for the possibility that all kinds of pressure will be exerted.”

Israel won the 2018 Eurovision contest on May 19 with the song “Toy” by Netta Barzilai. According to the annual competition’s rules, the winning country hosts the following year’s contest.

Winner of the Eurovision 2018 song contest Netta Barzilai seen as she arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport on May 14, 2018. (Flash90)

Israel has hosted the Eurovision contest twice before in Jerusalem, a city that most countries do not recognize as Israel’s capital.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has reportedly held secret meetings with Israel’s public broadcaster Kan, which said its main concern about holding the event in Jerusalem was that several countries may not participate.

At a recent meeting, European organizers of the Eurovision stressed to their Israeli counterparts that if the music competition becomes a source of political wrangling, there was a real chance it could be held elsewhere, the Ynet news website reported on Wednesday.

The European organizers also demanded that at least two Israeli cities submit tenders to host the competition, hinting that Jerusalem was not their preferred choice, according to the report.

“Our goal is that countries do not boycott the venue,” the Europeans told the Israelis, according to Ynet.

In Iceland, over 25,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the event be held elsewhere, “in view of the human rights abuses of Israel against the Palestinian people.” However, the national broadcaster said Iceland intends to take part in next year’s Eurovision song contest despite the petition.

Dublin Mayor Micheal Mac Donncha told Dublin Live news site last month that he would support an Irish boycott of the Israeli-hosted event.

“I would support that, I don’t think we should send a representative,” he said.

The Left Party of Sweden, the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom and some within Britain’s Labour Party have also called for their countries to boycott the song contest if it is held in Israel.

Eurovision organizers cast further doubt on the competition being held in Israel when they tweeted to fans last month not to “go booking your flights just yet” as the time and location of the 2019 event had yet to be set.

But days later, Eurovision organizers dismissed the reports of political tensions over Israel’s hosting of the song contest next year. Organizers told JTA they were finalizing the event with Israeli officials and called the Israeli news reports on the possible cancellation “speculation.”

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