Knesset amends broadcaster law to keep Israel eligible to host 2019 Eurovision

Lawmakers unanimously vote in favor of nixing planned split of news and entertainment divisions at Kan, to comply with competition rules

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)

Legislation reversing the planned division of the public broadcaster into two  separate entities was unanimously passed by the Knesset late Monday, ensuring that Israel will be eligible to host the Eurovision Song Contest next year.

All 54 lawmakers present during the late-night session voted in favor of the measure amending a 2014 law that would have split the news division from the entertainment division at the Kan public broadcaster.

The text of the amendment noted the measure was in order “to remove possible implications” on the ability to host the 2019 show, a right Israel earned after entrant Netta Barzilai won this year’s Eurovision with her song “Toy.”

The amended legislation comes weeks after organizers at the European Broadcasting Union reportedly warned Israel that if Kan’s news and non-news divisions were split into separate entities, it could be disqualified from hosting the competition.

Under EBU rules, the public broadcaster in each participating country must have a news division attached.

In 2014, the Knesset passed legislation that dismantled the Israel Broadcasting Authority and reestablished it as Kan. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pushed hard for the legislation to require Kan’s news department to function independently.

But Kan’s news division was never split off. In May 2017, the High Court of Justice issued an injunction preventing the split while the law underwent judicial review, temporarily putting the news division back into the hands of Kan.

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

Last month, Netanyahu said his government would follow the guidelines from competition organizers, appearing to back off his demand to separate Kan’s news division.

Though there were concerns the law could scuttle the hosting of Eurovision, the EBU in June officially named Israel as the host of next year’s competition, announcing it had kicked off preparations for the competition with representatives from Kan.

While the announcement confirmed the event will take place in Israel, it left open the hotly debated issue of which city would play host.

“As planning for next year’s contest begins, a decision on which city will host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will traditionally be made following a bid process. The Host City is due to be announced, along with the official dates of the two Semi-Finals and the Grand Final, by September this year,” the EBU statement said.

Four cities are reportedly vying for hosting rights: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat. The contest was hosted in Jerusalem in 1979 and 1999.

Culture Minister Miri Regev has previously 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 site as a way to politicize the show.

The EBU has said it has no issue with the show being in Jerusalem, so long as the city is chosen through a fair bidding process.

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.

Some fear holding the Eurovision in Jerusalem could increase pressure on artists or countries to boycott the contest.

Last month Regev’s insistence on holding a planned soccer match between Israel and Argentina in Jerusalem was cited as a main factor in its cancellation, and raised fears that similar pressure to locate the Eurovision contest in Jerusalem could boost anti-Israel boycott efforts.

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