JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel should withdraw as host of the Eurovision song contest if it is not held in Jerusalem, an Israeli government minister said.
“I will recommend to the government that if the Eurovision is not in Jerusalem, then it wouldn’t be right to host it,” Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan on Thursday morning.
Her statement came a day after Argentina’s national soccer team cancelled a friendly match in Jerusalem over pressure and physical threats from pro-Palestinian groups.
“It will cost Israel NIS 50 million ($14 million) and is designed to market the country. So I personally say if the Eurovision won’t be held in Jerusalem, it’s not right to invest the NIS 50 million in public funds,” Regev told the public broadcaster.
Israel won the 2018 contest on May 19 with the song “Toy” by Netta Barzilai. According to the annual competition’s rules, the winning country hosts the following year’s contest. Shortly after the victory, both Barzilai and Regev said the competition would be held in Jerusalem.
Israel has hosted the Eurovision contest twice before in Jerusalem, a city that most countries do not recognize as Israel’s capital.
A senior Kan source told Haaretz on Wednesday that officials at the European Broadcast Union were unhappy that Regev, and Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, announced that the contest would be held in Jerusalem.
Late last month, a message on the official Eurovision Twitter account warned fans not to book flights to Israel “just yet” and instead “keep an eye out for announcements on our official channels,” leading to speculation of disagreements between organizers and Israeli officials over various aspects of the competition, including matters connected to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
At about the same time, Eurovision organizers in an email to JTA dismissed as “speculation” reports of political tensions over Israel’s hosting of the song contest next year. The organizers said that they are finalizing the event with Israeli officials.
Ynet reported Wednesday that the organizers made clear to Israeli officials that if the location of next year’s competition became too much of a political football, it would move the venue. The organizers also asked for two cities to submit proposals to host the competition, according to Ynet.
In recent days, Regev has come under fire for moving the Argentina soccer match cancelled on Wednesday from Haifa to Jerusalem, with opponents suggesting that she was politicizing the match, which led to its cancellation.
“Jerusalem is the capital of world Jewry and the State of Israel. It is not a political issue,” she said during a Wednesday evening news conference regarding the match. “Jerusalem is our capital city.”