ISRAEL – Jon Ola Sand, the man who essentially runs the contest, predicts in a visit to Israel that BDS activists won’t flood the country next May – but warns that the city’s reputation will suffer if there’s not enough lodging for foreign fans
Two sworn enemies met for the first time last week: Eldad Koblenz, CEO of Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has threatened repeatedly to shut the corporation, mostly because Koblenz was chosen to head it. Presiding over the tense meeting in Jerusalem, at which the two said little, was Jon Ola Sand, executive supervisor of the European Broadcasting Union – the man who runs the international Eurovision Song Contest.
Sand, a 56-year-old Norwegian, is aware of Netanyahu’s opposition to Koblenz’s corporation and understood he was in a minefield, but managed to maintain as professional and friendly an atmosphere as possible at their meeting. His job, after all, is to serve as the envoy of a contest that is dedicated to the systematic abstention from anything involving politics.
“There was a lot of noise during the first weeks [after this year’s competition, in May] and all sorts of people tried to intervene but that’s only natural,” he tells Haaretz. “It’s nothing new that politicians make all sorts of declarations. The moment we declared it would be in Tel Aviv, everyone accepted it.”
Sand: “We cannot permit the contest to be politicized. We were very clear about that. It seems that now everyone understands that Tel Aviv was a good choice. Jerusalem hosted the event twice before and in Tel Aviv, which has proven itself in hosting diverse cultural events, it will be much easier to deal with the issue of Shabbat. Even politicians understand that if they try to politicize Eurovision, it won’t look good. The best way to present Israel to the world will be to do so without political intervention and without manipulation. People will spot it the moment it occurs.”
A few days after Netta won the competition, there was an article in The Guardian. It said even though the Eurovision always tries not to be political, the point that the Eurovision will be hosted in Israel makes it political from the very start. How are you going to deal with it? Because we’ve already seen protests in Ireland and Iceland.
“I cannot do anything about the perception – what people think about the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel. It’s a fact that we will be in Israel. And it’s a fact that the three TV shows and everything we do around the TV shows here will be nonpolitical. That is what we can safeguard. I cannot tell people in Ireland what they should think but as an organization we have a promise to our participating broadcasters to keep the shows free of politics. I see no boycott movement at the moment, [among any] of our members, and we have to remember there aren’t countries participating: There are broadcasters, and none of these broadcasters has mentioned anything about boycotts to us. No one.”
While the zeitgeist in Europe these days is tending toward more nationalism and extremism, from Brexit to Hungary, Sand says he doesn’t fear any threat to the concept of Eurovision, which sees Europe as a continent whose countries work together.
“I don’t think [that trend is] a threat for Eurovision,” he says. “I think Eurovision is more important than ever … I have no feeling that the song contest will not stay strong in all this. Again, I see no signs that this is putting a pressure on Eurovision. I don’t see that now and I believe that Eurovision can be more needed than ever to showcase what we can do together and the unity of Europe.”
One of the problems that arose regarding hosting in Tel Aviv is the lack of hotel rooms and other accommodations. Prices are already soaring. Sand asserts that his broadcasting union is trying to ensure that there will be lodging for the participating delegations and journalists attending the contest. The problem, he admits, is that the problem could make Tel Aviv end up looking bad.
“What we can do is secure enough hotel rooms for the delegations, and also for a contingency [involving] the press, and for some VIPs. We have managed to do that, so we will have no problem, but the price structure is a real problem. And we might even see that delegations will have to live in other places outside Tel Aviv. This will be a reputational issue for Tel Aviv, because everyone will talk to their broadcaster who will say it on the evening news. It will be a reputational problem. I hope that Tel Aviv can see this, but I don’t know if it can fix it.”