‘Don’t book flights yet’: Eurovision casts doubt over 2019 contest in Israel

Israeli sources reportedly say organizers concerned about politicization due to ‘unacceptable’ comments by ministers Miri Regev and Ayoub Kara

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

The Eurovision Song Contest on Tuesday raised questions about next year’s competition in Israel, with a tweet advising fans not to “go booking your flights just yet” as the time and location of the 2019 event have yet to be set.

Organizers are concerned about politicization due to remarks by Israeli ministers, according to an Israeli news report.

“Are you already looking forward to next year’s #Eurovision? Us too! But don’t go booking your flights just yet, for official updates on where and when it’ll take place, keep an eye out for announcements on our official channels,” the post on the contest’s official page said.

It was not clear if the public statement was suggesting that Eurovision is reconsidering whether to hold the event in Israel, as required by the organization’s tradition of having the nation of each year’s winner host the contest the following year.

A Eurovision spokesperson contacted by The Times of Israel declined to provide details on what exactly about the location and timing was in doubt.

The spokesperson said the contest’s staff has yet to meet Israeli officials to finalize the venue and dates, adding that “we are simply not there yet.”

But a senior source in Israel’s public broadcaster Kan — through which the Jewish state participates in the contest — said that Eurovision managers have expressed concern the 2019 event could be politicized, the Haaretz newspaper reported Tuesday evening.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes Eurovision, was said to be “very unhappy” with recent remarks by Israeli ministers regarding the hosting of next year’s installation.

Culture Minister Miri Regev and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara — both from the ruling Likud party — have each called for their offices to be in charge of production. Kara even announced he would invite Dubai to participate, without  having authority to make such a call, Haaretz said.

“The decisions made by Regev and Kara before even hearing anything about Eurovision hosting are unacceptable for the Union members,” the source was quoted as saying.

Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in two decades on May 12, as Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international competition with the women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”

Barzilai’s win meant Israel would host next year’s Eurovision competition — an event expected to bring thousands of fans and worldwide exposure to the Jewish state.

The other two Eurovision contests to be held in Israel were both at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, but city hall hinted the venue may change this year after the win, tweeting out a picture of the 15,000-seat Pais Arena, which opened in 2014.

With Jerusalem fraught with political and security concerns, most major artists who visit Israel opt for more culturally open Tel Aviv and its outdoor Ganei Yehoshua amphitheater or Menora Mivtachim Arena.

But with officials constantly looking to showcase Jerusalem as the country’s capital and beating heart — Israel recently insisted on hosting a friendly with the Argentinian soccer team in Jerusalem, despite Lionel Messi and co. requesting to hold the game in Haifa instead — the contest could offer an opportunity to shed the image of the city as a cultural backwater beset by security concerns.

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