Eurovision's Demands Should Serve as Wake-up Call for Israel

Politicians in the government seem to live under the illusion that non-democratic measures such as the nation-state law would go unnoticed abroad

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Netta from Israel reacts as she wins the Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018
Netta from Israel reacts as she wins the Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018Credit: Armando Franca,AP
Haaretz Editorial

In a different time, the demands of the European Broadcasting Union, the organizer of the Eurovision Song Contest, would have been received in Israel with a shrug, as self-evident.

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According to a report by the Israel Television News Corporation, the broadcasting union is asking for an Israeli authority, preferably the prime minister, to promise that Israel will grant entry visas for the event regardless of applicants’ political opinions; that visitors be able to tour the country regardless of their political opinions, religion or sexual orientation; that there be freedom of the press and complete freedom of expression for all participants; that there be no religious restrictions on rehearsals on Saturday; and that Israel’s public broadcasting company, Kan, be given complete independence in editing the broadcasts.

But even the self-evident has become controversial in the Israel of 2018, which bars entry to those who dare to criticize it and detains Israeli citizens at the border because their political views don’t match those of the government.

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“It’s a disgrace, it’s a humiliation,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in an interview with Army Radio Tuesday. “Where does the European Broadcasting Union get the chutzpah to come with such demands and insist that contrary to the laws of a democratic country, people be permitted to enter Israel even if they work day and night to hurt it?”

Erdan urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to sign this basic memorandum of understanding, even at the price of ceding Israel’s right to host the competition. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Army Radio that “the European Broadcasting Union’s demands of Israel must be like those of any other country.”

The right-wing government’s disingenuousness borders on the grotesque. With one hand it passes laws that undermine the state’s democratic character, and with the other, it holds its head in shock when the Western world treats it with suspicion because of those very same laws.

The European Broadcasting Union clarified that the demands are standard and posed to every country, except for the provisions on freedom of movement and expression. Those have also been added to the letter in the past when, for instance, the host country was Ukraine or Azerbaijan.

With just a few words, the union burst the Netanyahu government’s bubble — its insistence that Israel’s international status has never been better. From Europe, Israel looks like a country where upholding fundamental democratic rights requires a guarantee.

The Eurovision is an opportunity to host an international cultural celebration. But the Israelis responsible for the event must understand that reality can’t be left outside the hall.

The flattering videos of Tel Aviv beaches, Masada and the Dead Sea that will surely be screened during the event won’t be able to hide the government’s policy in the territories or the radicalization and religionization within Israel. But allowing freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of the press could plant a seed of hope that Israel’s ministers haven’t yet forgotten what democracy is.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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