Eurovision 2019, Mired in Political Controversy, to Be Held in Tel Aviv

Broadcasting union chiefs present Netanyahu with conditions for song contest to be held in Israel ■ Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker urged culture minister, communications minister and tourism minister to respect Sabbath laws if holding the contest in Jerusalem

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Netta Barzilai celebrating after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal.
Netta Barzilai celebrating after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal.Credit: Armando Franca,AP
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem, it was announced Thursday after several months of controversy.

In May, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) wrote Culture Minister Miri Regev, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin with a request that Sabbath laws not be violated when holding the contest in Jerusalem. The contest is meant to start on Saturday night at 10 P.M., only two hours after the Sabbath ends.

Earlier this month, the heads of the European Broadcasting Union have presented several conditions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Israel, including that participants be allowed to enter the country regardless of their political opinions.   

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Israel must also agree, the broadcasting union said, to allow the dress rehearsal to be held on Saturday and to allow complete freedom of the press and expression for all participants and delegations, the Israel News Corporation reported on Monday night.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called on Netanyahu to reject the conditions. "I do not understand by what right the European Broadcasting Union has the audacity to come and make such claims and demand, contrary to the legislation of a democratic state, that a person should be granted entry to Israel even if he works all day and all night to harm Israel so that it is boycotted and isolated," Erdan said.

The letter with the conditions was reportedly sent after representatives of the broadcasting unit visited Israel. The chairman of the broadcasting union and the competition's producer demanded in the letter that Netanyahu state in writing that he agrees to the conditions.

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The letter was sent to the CEO of Kan, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation. Eldad Koblentz. The letter also demanded that Netanyahu agree that the visitors to Israel be allowed to travel anywhere without restrictions regardless of their political opinions or sexual orientation, and that Kan have complete freedom in editing the broadcast.

The European Broadcasting Union told the news corporations that these conditions always apply to any country hosting the contest. However, the conditions dealing with freedom of movement and expression are only placed in countries where there is concern over such matters. The stipulation about holding the dress rehearsal on Saturday was made specifically with the sensitivities of the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members in mind.

In recent weeks Kan and the government have been at odds over funding for the contest. Kan is demanding that the Finance Ministry provide additional money to fund the event, but the government has refused. Three weeks ago the Finance Ministry and Kan’s chairman of the board, Gil Omer, agreed that Kan would take out a loan for 50 million shekels ($13.8 million), which would be given as a guarantee to the European Broadcasting Union in keeping with requirements for holding the contest in Israel.

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