Eurovision demands Israel host event without political, religious restrictions
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Eurovision demands Israel host event without political, religious restrictions

Organizers insist government commit to granting unlimited access to Israel, freedom of speech regardless of political opinion, allow general rehearsals on Shabbat

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)

Organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest have reportedly sent a letter conditioning Israel’s hosting of the 2019 installment on a governmental guarantee that it will grant visas regardless of visitors’ political opinions and let contestants hold general rehearsals on Shabbat.

While the demands would seem standard and straightforward in the case of any other country, in Israel, they could force the government to change some current policies and possibly clash with ultra-Orthodox coalition members.

After representatives of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) toured the country last week for possible venues — naming Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Eilat as possibilities — its director sent an official letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the list of demands, Hadashot TV news reported Monday.

A government representative, preferably Netanyahu himself, must formally declare that they will adhere to the demands, the EBU letter said.

The preliminary logo of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, to be used until the host city is known. (Courtesy/European Broadcasting Union)

Israel is required, according to the list, to grant visas and let visitors travel in Israel with no restrictions, regardless of their political leanings.

The government must also grant absolute freedom of press and freedom of speech to all participants and all delegations during their visit, the letter said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 29, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/YEDIOTH AHRONOTH via Flash90)

Israel last year passed a law enabling authorities to refuse access to supporters of boycotts against the Jewish state or of its West Bank settlements. It has since been making use of that law, and has detained many people at Ben Gurion Airport suspected of activism against Israeli actions, including prominent US journalist Peter Beinart, whose interrogation was criticized by Netanyahu as a mistake.

The EBU letter also demanded that Israel lift any religious restriction on holding events related to the contest on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, which begins Friday night and ends on Saturday evening.

Eurovision general rehearsals are usually held coinciding with the Jewish Sabbath, and ultra-Orthodox parties have previously demanded that they be rescheduled in Israel. They have threatened to call early elections over a number of issues, including railway works on Shabbat.

Leader of the ‘Shas’ party Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, right, with leader of the United Torah Judaism party Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman during a joint party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, June 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The letter also demanded that the Kan public broadcaster be given complete independence in holding the broadcast.

While the organizers said the demands were standard, an unnamed government source was quoted by Hadashot as saying that “it seems the organization is very suspicious,” and that there was a reason for the demand that a government official guarantee they will be fulfilled.

Israel’s singer Netta Barzilai celebrates with the trophy 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 PHOTO / Francisco LEONG)

Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in two decades on May 12, when Netta Barzilai snagged first place with the women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”

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

A spat between the Kan public broadcaster and the government over funding had cast doubt on whether the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest would indeed take place in the Jewish state, but a last-ditch deal reached last month seemed to clear the way for Israel to host the competition.

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