PM retreats from split of public broadcaster amid Eurovision cancellation fears

Netanyahu makes decision to amend law dividing Kan into separate entities after AG warns it could harm chance of hosting song contest

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

In a sharp reversal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday that the government would amend a law to divide the public broadcaster into separate entities amid growing fears the legislation could derail holding the Eurovision song competition in Israel next year.

The decision to change the legislation came after a meeting between Netanyahu, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and legal officials.

“The attorney general gave his opinion that the law [to split the broadcaster] will harm the holding of the Eurovision in Israel. Therefore, it was agreed to amend the legislation… in order to allow the Eurovision to take place in Israel,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The decision comes after the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes Eurovision, warned earlier this month that if the the public broadcaster’s news and non-news divisions were split into separate bodies, Israel’s membership would be reconsidered, possibly preventing the contest from being held in the Jewish state in 2019 as planned, The Marker business daily reported.

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

Despite overseeing the passage of legislation in 2014 dismantling the Israel Broadcasting Authority and reestablishing it as Kan, Netanyahu later pushed hard for its news department to function independently of the new public broadcaster, complaining of a lack of government control of the corporation’s editorial line.

The High Court of Justice issued an injunction last May against the legislation mandating the split, allowing the news division to operate under the aegis of Kan while the law undergoes a judicial review.

The control room at the offices of the Kan public broadcaster in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Though there were concerns the law could scuttle the hosting of Eurovision, the EBU last week officially named Israel as the host of next year’s event, and said they had kicked off preparations for the competition with representatives from Kan.

While the EBU’s announcement confirmed the event will take place in Israel, it left 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 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.

Israel earned the right to host the song contest after its entrant Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision event.

Israel’s singer Netta Barzilai aka Netta performs with the trophy 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)

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.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press at the ministry offices in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

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.

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