Eurovision organizers said to urge ministers to keep quiet on 2019 contest

Eurovision organizers said to urge ministers to keep quiet on 2019 contest

Senior European Broadcasting Union officials reportedly tell Israeli counterparts they ‘don’t have a problem with Jerusalem,’ but Israeli politicians ‘creating problems’

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 European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has reportedly warned Israeli politicians to stop issuing public remarks about the prospective location of next year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, since it invites pressure from organizations opposed to holding the competition in Jerusalem.

A TV report on Sunday 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 at all if they continue to publicly insist on holding it in the nation’s capital.

Senior EBU officials spoke last week with Eldad Koblenz, head of the Israeli public broadcaster Kan — which is tasked with organizing the 2019 contest — and stressed they are not interested in turning Eurovision into a “political issue,” Hadashot TV reported Tuesday.

“According to the rules, you should present us with several alternatives, but we don’t have a problem with Jerusalem, so long as it matches the professional requirements. We have broadcast from there in the past and as far as we’re concerned we can do it again,” the officials said, according to the report.

“But your politicians are creating problems for us because they are highlighting it and turning it into a political issue, sending us letters with demands, and thus inviting pressure on us from all sorts of bodies and organizations that don’t want us to broadcast from Jerusalem,” they added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Culture Minister Miri Regev in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Israeli ministers should stay away from the event,” they concluded.

The EBU officials were said to cite a number of past examples where politicians undermined the contest’s production, including in Ukraine, Switzerland and Croatia.

The report said Koblenz confirmed the content of the call, but emphasized that no specific politician was mentioned.

But the message was almost surely directed mainly at Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who on Thursday threatened to withdraw the country from the annual song competition unless it was held in Jerusalem.

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

The decision for the government to back off was made during a telephone meeting on Friday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the Channel 20 news station reported Sunday. Regev was conspicuously absent from the line.

The four decided that all negotiations on the matter will be handled exclusively by the Kan broadcaster.

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

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

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.

Regev’s insistence that a highly anticipated World Cup warm-up game between Israel and Argentina be held in Jerusalem was cited as a major factor in the visiting team’s decision to cancel the match last week following a Palestinian pressure campaign.

The affair was seen as a lesson in the limits of using international visitors as a means of gaining recognition of the city.

Netanyahu warned last week that other major events could also pull out over international pressure, apparently in a reference to Eurovision.

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.

In the immediate aftermath of Israel’s win, Barzilai, Netanyahu and others said the competition would be held in Jerusalem. Israel hosted Eurovision contests in Jerusalem in 1979 and 1999.

In secret meetings, officials reportedly said they were worried that several countries may boycott the event if it is held in Jerusalem.

Next week, Kan is expected to make presentations to the EBU for each city vying for hosting rights.

According to Ynet, the EBU is looking for a city with at least 3,000 hotel rooms and a concert venue that can hold at least 10,000 people. Since 1999, when the event was held at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, all contests have taken place in large arenas.

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