Next Year (Not) in Jerusalem: 2019 Eurovision Likely to Be Held in Tel Aviv, Official Says

Amid controversy over plan to hold event in Israel's capital, Finance Ministry official says Tel Aviv hosts the only site meeting requirements

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Netta from Israel celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Lisbon, Portugal, May 12, 2018.
Netta from Israel celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Lisbon, Portugal, May 12, 2018.Credit: Armando Franca/AP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest is most likely going to be held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds and not in Jerusalem, a senior Finance Ministry official said, noting that the fairgrounds’ Pavilion 2 was the only site in the country that meets all of the contest’s production requirements.

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The Kan broadcasting company, which will be responsible for producing the event, is currently negotiating with the treasury over the event’s budget, which is expected to be between 60 million to 80 million shekels ($16.6 million to $22.1 million). The next step will be to solicit bids to host the event, and while various cities are expected to bid, it isn’t clear that Jerusalem will be one of them.

The Eurovision schedule includes a month of rehearsals, including Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. There must also be a huge recreation area set up for fans who could not get tickets that must operate for an entire week. All this, said a treasury source, will make it difficult to hold the event in Jerusalem. The source added that Nir Barkat’s resignation as mayor will also make it difficult for the municipality to submit a suitable bid.

The Finance Ministry believes Pavilion 2 is the only site that meets the organizational and political requirements of the event. The pavilion, completed in 2015, was built at an investment of almost 400 million shekels. It was designed to accommodate large events, and backdrops can be built for an event the size of Eurovision. The European Judo Championship and the local Festigal have been held there. The venue’s disadvantage is that it’s relatively small, with an audience capacity of only 10,000, compared to the 18,000 who attended the Eurovision Song Contest this year in Lisbon.

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Holding the event at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa is also being considered, but the production schedule conflicts with the soccer season and the game schedules of Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Haifa. The Eurovision finale is expected to take place on May 17 or 24, after Memorial Day and Independence Day.

Financing of the event is to come partially from the budgets of the relevant ministries and partially from the government's total budget. Last week, the heads of Kan and the directors of the European Broadcasting Union held talks about the event. At the meeting in Switzerland, the corporation’s legal status was discussed because of a law passed last year that requires splitting off the news division from the broadcasting corporation. To remain a member of the EBU, Kan must be responsible for both news and entertainment programming. The law, meanwhile, is being challenged by a petition to the High Court of Justice.

Tamir Dayan, CEO of the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, told Haaretz: “If it is decided that Eurovision will not take place in Jerusalem, we will be happy to host it.”

Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that Israeli sources involved in the production of the event said senior EBU officials were reluctant to hold next year’s contest in Jerusalem, fearing that political disputes would undermine the competition’s brand. Sources familiar with the meetings said the EBU members asked for a detailed offer, but it was understood from their remarks that they didn’t see a suitable venue for the event in Jerusalem.

In response, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said at the time that if the competition did not take place in Jerusalem, it should not take place in Israel at all.

In an interview with Channel 2, Regev said, “With all due respect to the European Broadcasting Union, Israel has the right to decide where the Eurovision will be, and if it is not in Jerusalem, it will not be right to host it. Aside from the fact that it’s a nice show, there’s no issue here of content; the content is that the state shows its best face. If the prime minister decides otherwise, that’s his right. But if they ask me, it would be right to host it in Jerusalem and if not, to invest the 50 million shekels in other things.”

At the beginning of the month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in which it was decided that the government would not interfere with the identity of the Eurovision’s host city. Regev was not included in that discussion.

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