An ongoing strike by staff at the Foreign Ministry could prevent Israel from participating in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy.
Foreign Ministry employees in Israel and Italy are refusing to handle the necessary security arrangements for the Israeli delegation as part of their strike over employment conditions.
Israel's public broadcaster Kan – a member of the European Broadcasting Union, which operates Eurovision – approached Alon Ushpiz, the ministry’s director general, asking the staff to make an exception for Eurovision, but said it was turned down.
On Tuesday, Kan said it "cannot take responsibility for the safety of the delegation without security under the auspices of the State of Israel.”
Israel has fared well in the contest over the years, winning it four times, including 2018, when Netta Barzilai took first prize. This year, however, Israel may not be represented at all due to the ongoing sanctions that the staffers have imposed for the past four months.
The competition is scheduled for May 10 to 14 in the Italian city of Turin after Italy took first prize in last year’s competition. Michael Ben-David, Israel's contestant in this year's competition, was expected to fly to Turin at the beginning of May for rehearsals.
Ben-David, a 25-year-old actor and singer, was slated to compete with his song "I.M." He was selected to represent Israel in February, after winning Israel's version of "The X Factor."
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Kan approached Israel's Shin Bet security agency in an effort to provide alternate means of protection for the delegation, but the Shin Bet declined to help. “Protecting delegations abroad requires advanced work, including coordination with local [staff], which is the responsibility of the security officers at the destination,” the Shin Bet told Kan CEO Eldad Koblenz, explaining that it could not receive the necessary assistance from ministry staff in Italy.
The labor sanctions follow the refusal of the Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry to negotiate the employment conditions of Foreign Ministry staff – particularly the issue of overtime pay. Other issues in dispute include employees remaining on-call without compensation, the scrapping of hardship pay when serving in countries at war, the failure to pay certain expenses for ministry emissaries abroad, and the employment of trainees at minimum wage.
The Foreign Ministry workers’ committee expressed regret for any harm that the sanctions may cause, adding that despite the sanctions, staff have “risked their lives in Eastern Europe to rescue Israelis” and made an exception for the Negev Summit, a meeting last month at Kibbutz Sde Boker of the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, in addition to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.