The European organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest on Tuesday officially named Israel as the host of next year’s event, and said they had kicked off preparations for the competition with representatives from Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan.
The announcement puts an end to uncertainty over whether Israel would follow the tradition of hosting after winning the previous year. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the contest, was reportedly concerned about it being politicized by Israeli ministers and about a government initiative to split Kan into two separate bodies, which would make Israel ineligible to host Eurovision.
Israel earned the right to host the song contest after its entrant Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision event.
Unveiling a preliminary logo for the 2019 edition in Israel, the EBU said that representatives of the Israeli public broadcaster Kan met with the EBU, its event partners and the Reference Group in Geneva, Switzerland, for initial talks regarding the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel and to establish a timetable of key milestones.
The statement added that the Israeli team had received an extensive handover from Portuguese broadcaster RTP, which handled this year’s contest in Lisbon.
While the statement confirms the event will take place in Israel, it leaves open the hotly debated issue of which city will 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 continued.
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 they have 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.
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 its cancellation, and raised fears that similar pressure to locate the Eurovision contest in Jerusalem could boost Israel boycott efforts.
Also putting Israel’s hosting rights at risk was a push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to split Israel’s public broadcaster into news and non-news divisions. If approved by the High Court of Justice, the country could lose its eligibility to host next year’s event. Under EBU rules, the public broadcaster in each participating country must have a news division attached.
Last Thursday, the EBU sent a letter warning that if Kan is split, Israel’s membership will be reconsidered, possibly preventing the contest from being held in the Jewish state in 2019 as planned, The Marker reported.
But on Monday Netanyahu said that his government would follow the EBU guidelines to ensure Eurovision could be hosted in Israel next year.