GRAPEVINE: Eurovision, Independence Day and more

Movers and shakers, how Israeli people shape the places of this country.

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Anatoly Viktorov greets Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III.  (photo credit: RUSSIAN EMBASSY)
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Anatoly Viktorov greets Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III.
(photo credit: RUSSIAN EMBASSY)
 ■ MANY AMBASSADORS have been preoccupied with Eurovision and events directly or indirectly related to both the song contest and Israel Independence Day. Europe Day, which is actually celebrated on May 9 by the European Union, was delayed in Israel this year because Israel Independence Day happened to be on May 9, and Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, the head of the Delegation of the European Union, not only wanted his European colleagues to attend but also President Reuven Rivlin, who hosted a reception of his own for diplomats on May 9. So Giaufret moved the date of his reception to later this week. It goes without saying that he has been invited to various Eurovision events.
■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Chris Cannan has been very busy with Eurovision. He attended rehearsals with Australia’s Eurovision contestant Kate Miller-Heidke and last Thursday hosted a Eurovision party in her honor. This week, he’s hosting a lecture by historian, commentator and author Dr. Dean Vuletic, who is a well-known Australian authority on Eurovision history.
Vuletic is the author of Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest, which was published last year. It is regarded as the first scholarly work on Eurovision and earned him the European Union’s prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship award for research. A regular commentator on Eurovision on international media, Vuletic, an alumnus of the Australian National University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yale University and Columbia University, will talk about why Australia and Israel are competing in Eurovision when neither country is in Europe.
■ APROPOS EUROVISION, KAN 11, whose future remains at risk, has been saddled with the Eurovision production costs without the government chipping in, despite the enormous benefit to Israel’s image. Although fewer people have come to Israel for Eurovision than initially anticipated, those who have come – including contestants and their delegations, journalists and tourists, have not been frightened off by rockets from Gaza. What prevented many people from coming was the exorbitant cost of tickets and hotel accommodation. KAN is now advertising leftover tickets for all but the final night when the winner will be announced. Local journalists covering Eurovision have been frantically interviewing the non-Israelis who have any kind of connection with Eurovision. One young nameless fan with an American accent said, “I have faith in the IDF. The Iron Dome is strong, because it is made of iron. We are seeing more of Israel than the drama in the South.” He also praised the friendliness and hospitality, the joys of Banana Beach and declared the hummus to be “out of this world.”
Regardless of how fabulous Eurovision turns out to be and how many kudos KAN 11 receives for its success, there’s always the morning after the night before. KAN 11 was born with the Sword of Damocles hanging over its head. A not insignificant number of people among Israel’s higher echelons see no reason for maintaining a public broadcasting network whose ratings are almost always below those of commercial networks. What such people fail to realize is that commercial networks often cater to the lowest common denominator of public taste, and while their news programs may rival those of public broadcasting networks, their cultural and educational programs often lag far behind those of public broadcasting. That’s one of the reasons that public broadcasting is essential. Moreover, commercial broadcasting is dependent on advertising revenues, whereas public broadcasting is not, though in Israel it does have advertising on radio and so-called sponsorships on television which are surreptitiously working their way toward becoming commercials. However, when public broadcasting can resist political interference, it does not have the same limitations and deterrence as commercial broadcasting has with investigative journalism, and that is to the benefit of the public.
In a recent interview with Yediot Aharonot, Ehud Koblentz, the CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation – the umbrella over the TV and radio stations that used to fall under the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority – said he knows that he will have to fight a tough battle for the IBC’s survival after Eurovision. However, he is hopeful that commonsense and justice will prevail and that the prime minister will realize that the IBC is not his main issue, and that he has other, much more important things on which to focus. Even if the IBC overcomes the threats to its existence, there is yet another threat – a substantial cut in its budget, which will force the dismissal of many employees and will have a negative effect on the variety and quality of programs. For former employees of the IBA who battled so hard to keep it going, but were fortunately absorbed into the IBC, this would be a most traumatic déjà vu. Koblentz remains optimistic that in the final analysis it won’t happen, but he can’t ignore the possibility that it could.
■ RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Anatoly Viktorov, in addition to attending some of the many Red Army commemorations around the country marking victory over the Nazis, hosted a reception at his residence where he congratulated veterans of the Red Army, saying, “We owe veterans of the Second World War a debt that we can never repay. Dear veterans, we bow down to you. Our country played a key tole in defeating Hitler’s military machine, liberating Europe and freeing the world from the insane ideology of Nazism and its misanthropic practice of hatred.
“Back then, people in many countries were impatiently waiting to hear news from besieged Moscow and Leningrad, from the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. Everyone was aware that these battlefields witnessed the most decisive fight against Nazism. That fight was won thanks to courage, heroism and self-sacrifice of the soldiers of the Red Army and all the people of the former Soviet Union who bore the major burden of the war. Our goal and our cause were just and therefore we won together.”
In addition to Red Army veterans, Victorov’s guests included diplomats, leaders of Eastern Orthodox churches and prominent figures from Israel’s Russian-speaking community.
■ IF A photo tells you more than a thousand words, imagine how much more is told in a film clip, no matter how short. As a gift to the nation in time for Israel Independence Day, a cooperative effort between the Israel Film Archive of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the State Archives, with the cooperation of the Spielberg Archives and other archives, resulted in the completion of the restoration of the film and sound of the Proclamation of Independence by Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. The proclamation is integral to a four-part series on the history of the development of the state. The main people involved in the project were Meir Russo, Hila Abraham, Dr. Noa Regev, Gila Flam, Gili Stein and Michael Gurwitz among others. For the past 40 years, the Jerusalem Cinematheque Israel Archives have preserved and restored the films of cultural and social welfare organizations and institutions, as well as thousands of other films from Israel and around the world. All these films will be available to the general public via the Internet from 2020-on.
■ WITH ANNUAL revenues well in excess of a billion shekels, Jerusalem businessman and supermarket czar Rami Levy keeps diversifying. From expanding his supermarket chain, he went into communications and real estate. Now, according to a report in the financial daily Globes, he’s going into the hotel business, and together with Jerusalem contractor Avi Murdoch is planning to build a hotel by the capital’s Sherover Promenade at an investment of NIS 150 million
The land which the pair acquired a few months back already has permits for a hotel. The estimated period for construction is around two to three years. The intention is to create a three- or four-star facility for tourists who are looking for reasonably priced accommodation in Jerusalem. Although prices will be lower than other nearby hotels, says Levy, the service will be five-star. This is similar to the philosophy that he employs in his supermarkets. He sells the same products, and even more brands than most other supermarkets, but charges less for most items, thereby encouraging shoppers to buy more. In the long run, this has a positive effect on revenues. If his hotel will give better value for less money, it will be full all-year round. This is not Levy’s first venture with Murdoch. The two own land at Jerusalem’s First Station where restaurants, entertainment and bazaars attract locals and tourists alike.
It’s difficult to believe that Levy, whose retail career started in a hole-in-the-wall premises in Mahaneh Yehuda Market’s Rehov Hashikma, is now responsible for the livelihoods of more than 5,000 people. But he hasn’t forgotten where he started, which is why the overall title of his business is Hashikma Marketing.