Miri Regev appeals to EBU to save Shalva Band

"The question at stake is not hypothetical but is rather a matter of principle," Regev said.

MIRI REGEV and Dena of the Shalva Band last year.  (photo credit: ELI SABTI)
MIRI REGEV and Dena of the Shalva Band last year.
(photo credit: ELI SABTI)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev sent a letter on Monday to the European Broadcasting Union asking it to bend the rules to allow the Shalva Band to potentially appear at the Eurovision in Tel Aviv this year.
“I strongly urge you, true to the spirit we all believe in, to reconsider an exception to your rule and to enable the Shalva Band, if it wins the local contest, to participate according to their freedom of conscience and without violating their most sacred religious practices,” Regev wrote. “The question at stake is not hypothetical but is rather a matter of principle, underlying the very foundations of equal opportunity and true acceptance of the concept of diversity that the Eurovision Song Contest proudly symbolizes.”
The Shalva Band – made up mostly of young adults with a range of disabilities – is considered a top contender to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv this year. But the band is considering backing out of Hakochav Haba (Rising Star), the competition show that selects Israel’s Eurovision contestant. That’s because if it should win the show and go on to represent Israel at the Eurovision it will be contractually obligated to participate in rehearsals that take place on Shabbat – and several of the band members are religiously observant.
“All members of the Shalva Band are extremely talented people with special needs and complex disabilities, who have thrived and excelled in bringing their special and most gifted voices to an ever-larger audiences while exemplifying the great values of equality, human dignity and diversity,” Regev wrote on Monday.
“As you are well aware, the State of Israel, as any other democracy in the world, believes in the spirit of the Eurovision, which is a wonderful stage for the musical talents of all, regardless of race, gender, nationality or religious belief,” she said. “I am thus greatly concerned about the implications of strictly abiding by the rule of live performance on stage since it effectively prevents observant Jews, in Israel and elsewhere, from ever participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. Surely, you understand that such a result is the complete opposite of the lofty, humane and inclusive democratic spirit, which has made the Eurovision Song Contest such a powerful cultural phenomenon worldwide.”
The Shalva Band would not publicly comment on the issue. Neither would Keshet, the network which airs Hakochav Haba.
A source closely involved with the Eurovision production told The Jerusalem Post last week that the rehearsal on Shabbat is critical to the overall competition.
That rehearsal is what the jury members from all participating countries view before casting their votes, and it is recorded to be used in case of any technical difficulties or problems during the live Saturday night broadcast.
Reached for comment on Monday, a spokesman for the EBU reiterated what it said last week.
“All broadcasters commit to abide by the contest rules when agreeing to participate,” he said. “These rules include the obligation of attendance across all rehearsals and live shows, for delegation members and contestants.”
Earlier in the day, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi called on the government to take action and intervene on the issue.
“This appears to be discrimination against Shabbat observers in the state of the Jewish people,” Revivi said.”It appears that the EBU is ready to accept anyone and accommodate everyone except those who ask to keep Shabbat. I wonder if they would forbid a contestant from appearing with a burka or a hijab.”
Assi Azar, a host of both Hakochav Haba and the 2019 Eurovision, tweeted Monday a reminder that some people were getting ahead of themselves.
“As a host on the show I feel the need to remind some people – The Shalva Band has not yet won, and they might not win,” he wrote. “They’re part of the four finalists and they’re super beloved but there are other very beloved contestants on the show and everyone has a high chance of winning!”