Government said to drop demand Eurovision be held in Jerusalem

Culture Minister Miri Regev left out of discussion as PM, others agree to leave decision on where to host song contest with public broadcaster, fearing boycott over politicization

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 government will not intervene in determining the location of next year’s Eurovision song contest, according to a report Sunday, amid fears that ministers could torpedo’s Israel’s chance at hosting the event if they insist on holding it in Jerusalem.

Israel’s Kan public broadcaster is tasked with organizing the 2019 contest, but politicians have insisted that the venue be in the capital despite reports that some countries or artists could balk at taking part out of concerns of politicizing the event.

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.

The four decided that all negotiations on the matter will be handled exclusively by Kan. Four cities are reportedly vying for hosting rights: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat.

Conspicuously absent from the inter-ministerial conversation was Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who on Thursday threatened to withdraw the country from the annual song fest unless it was held in Jerusalem as a way of promoting the city as Israel’s capital.

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

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 the international community, which maintains that the city’s status should be determined between Israel and the Palestinians through negotiation.

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 a reference to Eurovision.

The Culture Ministry issued a statement saying that Regev had been updated about the conversation and would be “dealing with this issue in the future.”

3,000 rooms, 10,000 seats

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.

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

The European Broadcasting Union, charged with producing the event together with local member Kan, has said it will not object to Jerusalem being the chosen venue, so long as a proper tender has taken place, Channel 20 reported.

Last week, the EBU told Kan it was worried about politicization of the event.

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

They demanded that at least two Israeli cities submit tenders to host the competition, hinting that Jerusalem was not their preferred choice, according to a report in the Ynet news website.

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

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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