Eurovision Organizers Reluctant to Hold 2019 Event in Jerusalem, Sources Say

European officials fear that celebrations in the contested city could cause controversy

Netta Barzilai reacts as she wins the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, May 12, 2018.
Armando Franca / AP

Officials at the European Broadcasting Union are uneasy about holding the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem next year, say Israelis involved in the production.

Following a series of meetings last week, the European officials expressed concern that Mideast politics could harm the competition and erode the brand, the sources say.

The Eurovision will take place in Israel next year because an Israeli, Netta Barzilai, won the 2018 contest held in Portugal last month. No decision has been made on the location or date; preparations are at a very early stage, and controversy surrounding Jerusalem increased last month when the United States moved its embassy there.

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) says next year’s contest should not be held in Jerusalem.

“The right-wing Israeli government should continue to be punished for its crimes against the Palestinian people and the constant denial of basic rights, in utter contrast to the position of the Europeans and other nations,” he said.

Production of next year’s spectacle is in the hands of the Israeli public broadcaster, Kan, but the European Broadcasting Union has broad powers over details. Last week representatives of the group visited Israel.

The European Broadcasting Union is an alliance of public-service media entities: it has 72 members from 56 countries, plus 34 associate members from 20 other countries.

At the meetings, the Europeans asked for a detailed proposal on how the event would be hosted, the sources say. But the officials seemed to feel that Jerusalem did not have an appropriate venue for the competition, the Israelis say.

Also, while sources at the Finance Ministry say they’re willing to cover the costs of the contest, Kan has not provided any figures.

On Wednesday, Yossi Sharabi, director-general of the Culture and Sport Ministry, said that the 2019 Eurovision song contest might not take place in Jerusalem, despite Israel winning the completion this year. "Eurovision in Jerusalem? It isn't at all a given," Sharabi told the Sports 5 channel. "It's early to talk about this. Everybody wants it to be in Jerusalem. But there could well be other considerations."

Hours later Argentina officially announced it was canceling the exhibition match against Israel that was meant to take place Saturday in Jerusalem. Argentine Football Association president explained the match was canceled in order to protect the players. 

Later in the day, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said at a press conference that "there is no bigger lie, the Argentinians never opposed having the game in Jerusalem. Argentina never objected to having the game in Jerusalem. After all, this game was born of Messi's desire to come to Jerusalem, to kiss the Western Wall and to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre."