Eurovision organizers warn Israel could lose hosting rights

Eurovision organizers warn Israel could lose hosting rights

European Broadcasting Union says bid to split local public broadcaster could strip Israel of its membership in the organization

Israel's Netta Barzilai celebrates after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Israel's Netta Barzilai celebrates after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

The European organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest have reportedly warned that if a push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to split Israel’s public broadcaster is approved by the High Court of Justice, the country could lose its eligibility to host next year’s event.

The European Broadcasting Union on Thursday sent a letter, warning that if the public broadcaster Kan is divided into an entertainment entity and a separate news entity, Israel’s membership in the EBU– a necessary condition for participating in Eurovision or hosting it — will be reconsidered, possibly preventing the contest from being held in the Jewish state in 2019 as planned, The Marker reported Monday.

The financial news website published a copy of the letter, sent by EBU chief Noel Curran to Kan chairman Gil Omer and director general Eldad Koblenz, after they asked for an update on their membership status in the EBU.

The report about the letter was published shortly before a meeting on the plan to split the public broadcaster, attended by Netanyahu, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and others. The letter sent by the EBU would be a major topic of discussion at the meeting, which was to focus on finding an agreement that would enable Eurovision to be held in Israel, the report said.

In the letter, Curran said Kan currently has interim membership in the EBU, and that the status could be extended next week until the “resolution” of the pending legislation to split the broadcaster.

If that legislation is approved by the High Court and passed, the EBU director general wrote, “the EBU may have reservations about membership on that basis and a new membership application would be required and subject to thorough reexamination by all the EBU governing bodies.”

Possibly hinting that the reapplication would have a slim chance of being approved if the split is effected, Curran added: “We are not aware of any PSM [public service media] organization that operates the news in a totally separate entity with a separate governance.”

According to a The Marker report last week, the government wants to go ahead with the split and — if the High Court approves the measure — issue a temporary 12- to 18-month delay on its implementation in order to let Israel host the contest.

Kara and Regev are divided over how the show’s production would be handled if it takes place in Israel. Kara has declared that there will be no political influence over the show, whereas Regev wants to control the segments broadcast between songs. 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.

In arguing that Kan cannot be trusted with that part using, Regev has floated the false claim that its presenter, Arab Israeli Lucy Ayoub, opened her remarks at this year’s Eurovision voting process in Arabic. In fact, she spoke in English and Hebrew before saying several words in Arabic.

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

Israel earned the right to host the contest after Israeli Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision event.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Regev’s insistence on holding a planned soccer match between Israel and Argentina in Jerusalem was cited as a main factor in leading to its cancellation, and raised fears that similar pressure to locate the Eurovision 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 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 between Israel and the Palestinians through negotiations. Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state while Israel sees the united city as its eternal capital.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more: