Eurovision 2024 hit by protests over Israel taking part amid Gaza war

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Malmo, Sweden — Not everyone was welcoming the Eurovision Song Contest to the Swedish city of Malmo. Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators protested in the Swedish port city Thursday against Israel’s participation in the pan-continental pop competition. Protesters waving green, white and red Palestinian flags packed the historic Stortorget square near Malmo’s 16th-century town hall before a planned march through the city for a rally in a park several miles from the Eurovision venue.

Chanting chanting and yelling slogans such as “Israel is a terror state,” the demonstrators set off smoke flares in the Palestinian colors during a noisy but peaceful rally to criticize Israel and call for a cease-fire in its war with Hamas.

SWEDEN-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT
People gather for a rally in Malmo, Sweden, in protest against Israel’s participation in the 68th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) on May 9, 2024.

JOHAN NILSSON/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP/Getty


The first of those slogans chanted by the protesters is a highly controversial reference to the creation of a Palestinian state, defined by the Anti-Defamation League as an “antisemitic slogan commonly featured in anti-Israel campaigns and chanted at demonstrations.”

While many protesters reject the slogan being rooted in racism or calling for violence, the ADL says “it is fundamentally a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that includes the State of Israel, which would mean the dismantling of the Jewish state… It is an antisemitic charge denying the Jewish right to self-determination, including through the removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland.”

There was a large police presence at the protest in Malmo on Thursday, with a helicopter hovering overhead and officers on rooftops with binoculars.

“It’s important to be here,” said Amani Eli-Ali, a Malmo resident of Palestinian heritage. “It’s not okay for Sweden to arrange this Eurovision and have Israel in the contest.”

SWEDEN-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT
People gather for a rally in Malmo, Sweden, in protest against Israel’s participation in the 68th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) on May 9, 2024.

JOHAN NILSSON/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP/Getty


Outrage over the ongoing Israel-Hamas brought a jarring juxtaposition to Eurovision week in Malmo. Music fans in colorful sequined outfits or draped in their national flags mixed in the streets with supporters of the Palestinian cause in traditional keffiyeh scarves.

Palestinian flags fly from windows and balconies along a pedestrianized thoroughfare that has been temporarily renamed “Eurovision street.”

Pro-Palestinian groups plan to march again on Saturday, the day of the Eurovision final.

Israel’s government warned its citizens of a “tangible concern” that Israelis could be targeted for attack in Malmo during the contest.

Organizers, who say they try to keep Eurovision a non-political event, with this year’s them being unity through music, have rejected calls to bar Israel over the conduct of its war against Hamas.


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They did tell Israel to change the lyrics of its entry, however, which was originally titled “October Rain,” in an apparent reference to Hamas’ cross-border Oct. 7 terrorist attack that killed some 1,200 Israelis and triggered the war. The song was renamed “Hurricane,” and Israeli singer Eden Golan was allowed to remain in the contest.

She was to compete in a semi-final Thursday evening. Some audience members attending a Wednesday dress rehearsal could be heard to boo during Golan’s performance.

Critics of the decision to let Israel compete point out that Russia was kicked out of Eurovision in 2022 after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus was ejected a year earlier over its government’s crackdown on dissent.

“We’re supposed to be united by music but we’re not united, because Israel is participating,” said Malmo resident Anders Trolle-Schultz, who attended the protest.

“I think Malmo should have kept Eurovision, but we should have told Israel either ‘Stay away,’ or maybe even say, why don’t we invite a Palestinian music group to participate? That would be fair.”



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