Last-minute deal reached to ensure Eurovision will be held in Israel

Representatives of Kan public broadcaster accept Finance Ministry proposal, ending spat over who will front guarantee for hosting song contest

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)

After days of doubt over whether Israel would host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, a last-ditch deal has ensured that the popular international competition will be coming to the holy land after all.

A financial spat between the public broadcaster and the government over funding for the event had left Israel’s hosting duties in jeopardy, as a Tuesday deadline fast approached for submitting a guarantee of €12 million ($14 million) to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to reserve the right to host the event.

During last-minute discussions Tuesday, representatives of public broadcaster Kan accepted a proposal by the Finance Ministry, meaning that the contest in Israel can go ahead as planned.

The guarantee will be returned once the contest takes place. Kan had demanded extra funds on top of its annual budget of around NIS 750 million, saying it feared an eventuality in which it would lose the guarantee if the contest were to be canceled for security reasons or due to international pressure by boycott groups.

The government had refused to give any money to the broadcaster, claiming that its annual budget was sufficient to cover the costs.

Both sides have traded strongly worded statements accusing each other of endangering the hosting of the event and holding one another responsible.

According to the deal reached, Kan said it would take a loan to front the money, on the provision that should the contest by canceled for reasons out of its control, the Finance Ministry will find a way to reimburse the broadcaster.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on May 7, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the deal, Kan said: “The broadcast corporation will today deposit the €12 million guarantee. [Kan] believes the government of Israel will do everything it can to ensure a worthy and dignified Eurovision in Israel and will honor its ministers’ commitments … for funding the contest.”

Kan added that funding for the contest itself, which hasn’t been under dispute thus far, would now be discussed by relevant teams in its budget department and that their recommendations would be handed to authorities.

Beyond the deposit, officials have said they expect the contest to cost around NIS 157 million ($42 million) and to bring in NIS 53 million in revenue, The Marker business news site reported. Kan reportedly wants the government to cover the other NIS 104 million, and the issue could be the subject of further clashes.

The Marker noted that professionals at the Finance Ministry and Communications Ministry agree the government should provide funds, but that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara insist Kan should finance the contest.

Netta Barzilai from Israel performs “Toy” after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

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

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

At first Israeli politicians loudly and publicly insisted that the competition must be held in the capital, Jerusalem. But after backlash from the organizers, who threatened that politicization could derail Israel’s hosting the contest, Netanyahu instructed his government to keep quiet on the issue.

Several cities in Israel are expected to vie to host the contest.

The prime minister also recently backed down on his demand to separate Kan’s news division from the rest of the broadcaster, as the move threatened to undermine the broadcaster’s qualification to cover the event as laid down by the EBU. Under EBU rules, the public broadcaster in each participating country must have a news division attached.

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