Tel Aviv mayor says municipality will pay venue cost for Eurovision song contest

Ron Huldai says event will showcase Israel, no matter which city it's held in; finance minster says public broadcasting corporation can find the cash to stage the contest

Israelis celebrate the victory of Netta Barzlilai at the Eurovision 2018 song contest, Tel Aviv, May 12, 2018. (Flash90)

Mayor Ron Huldai on Monday said the Tel Aviv municipality would absorb part of the cost of staging the 2019 Eurovision song contest, adding to confusion surrounding the question of whether Israel will be forced to pull out of hosting the annual music extravaganza due to a financial spat between the public broadcaster and the government over the funding of the event.

“The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is ready to join the national effort and absorb the costs of the venue – a central cost of the event,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Maybe it will help those who are still climbing trees instead of finding solutions.”

Huldai, who is standing for re-election for a possible fifth term in October on behalf of the opposition Labor party, took aim at the fighting between the national political leadership of the country and the public broadcasting corporation, which has thrown Israel’s hosting duties into jeopardy.

“Once again there is no responsible adult — just as they drove Messi out of Israel, now they are driving away the Eurovision Song Contest,” wrote Huldai, in reference to Argentina pulling out of a pre-World Cup warm-up soccer game with Israel amid intense protests and threats from the Palestinians after it was decided to move the game from Haifa to the capital, Jerusalem.

Mayor Ron Huldai in Tel Aviv, October 31, 2017 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“The event is broadcast to billions around the world — no matter which city it takes place in, it will give exposure to the beautiful Israel that many in the world do not know.”

At first Israel insisted that the competition must be held in the capital, Jerusalem. But after backlash from the organizers, who threatened to find another host country, Netanyahu instructed his government to keep quiet on the issue.

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

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Monday said that the public broadcasting corporation already has all the money it needs to host the Eurovision song contest, and warned it not to balk at using the funds it has to bring the spectacle to Israel.

Speaking to the Hebrew-language Ynet website, Kahlon claimed the Kan Broadcasting Corporation could easily put up the €12 million ($14 million) security guarantee needed to reserve the right to host the event. Kan has demanded extra funds on top of its annual budget and said it would forfeit the event without the help.

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

“They are able to put up the guarantee in a minute,” Kahlon said. “If they don’t transfer the guarantee, they will be making a serious mistake.”

“The corporation is a public entity, it gets money from the public and it needs to work according to rules,” Kahlon continued.

His comments came the day after Kan threatened to pull out of the hosting the annual contest if the government does not help out with money for the guarantee.

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

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

“Holding the Eurovision [in Israel] depends only on the broadcaster,” said Kahlon. “There is no one standing in its way.”

In a statement, the Kan broadcaster reiterated that it could not fund the event from its own pocket.

“If the government decides to fund it — the Eurovision will be in Israel,” the statement read. “The corporation again urges the decision makers to sit together and to agree on a budget with the Finance Ministry.”

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.

Earlier Monday Likud MK David Bitan told Army Radio that “the Eurovision will not be held in Israel.”

“This is not going to a good place,” he said. “We can’t give Kan the loan it is demanding. To give them money, we need to change the law, and that is a matter of two-three months. That is a problem.”

Head of the opposition Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni speaks at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on August 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union warned that the public will be deeply disappointed if the event does not come to Israel.

“The Eurovision is under threat and its cancellation will be your fault,” she tweeted at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The public won’t forgive if because of your continued petty dispute with the broadcaster we will lose the event which is exciting for the entire nation,” Livni wrote, referring to Netanyahu’s desire that the broadcaster’s news division be split from the main corporation. “Wasn’t the Argentinian farce enough for you? You are the prime minister, find a solution. Netta Barzilai put us on the world map — don’t take us off it.”

On Sunday the head of the broadcaster, Gil Omer, sent a warning letter to Netanyahu saying the deadline for making the guarantee payment to the European Broadcasting Union had passed, but it received an extension until August 14.

In addition to the deposit, it is expected to cost NIS 157 million ($42 million) to host the song contest. Counting the revenues earned by the broadcaster, it will face a shortfall of some NIS 104 million ($28 million), The Marker business news site reported. Kan wants the government to top up its budget to cover these costs.

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

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