Israel qualifies for Eurovision song contest final despite protests | Eurovision 2024

Israel has made it through to the final of the Eurovision song contest, setting the stage for a tense and politically charged event in Malmö on Saturday.

At Thursday’s second semi-final in Sweden’s third largest city, viewers from the competing countries backed the Israeli singer Eden Golan as one of the 10 entries to progress.

Earlier in the day a demonstration in Malmö’s city centre saw thousands protest against the decision to include Israel while its military campaign in Gaza continues. Further protests, and an alternative concert billed by organisers as a “a song contest without genocide”, are planned for Saturday.

Twenty-six of the 37 entrants will compete in Saturday’s final. After Loreen’s triumph last year, the host and record winner Sweden was guaranteed a place alongside the “big five” of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, which make the biggest financial contributions. The remaining 20 qualified via the semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday.

Israel was allowed to compete this year after it agreed to modify the lyrics of its entry, a ballad widely understood to be a reference the Hamas massacre on 7 October.

The original version of Hurricane, which was titled October Rain, was barred by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for breaking rules on political neutrality.

Police stand around pro-Palestinian protesters in central Malmo. Photograph: Johan Nilsson/EPA

Eurovision’s 68th edition takes place seven months into Israel’s bombardment campaign on the Gaza Strip, and just days after the Israel Defense Forces launched a major military offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

Golan, 20, who was born in Israel to Russian parents, was booed by members of the audience during dress rehearsals on Wednesday. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, later released a statement in which he praised the singer for “successfully facing a wave of antisemitism while standing and representing the state of Israel with respect”.

Earlier on Thursday, between 5,000 and 6,000 protesters had marched through Malmö city centre to protest against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the country’s inclusion in the event, according to police.

A rally in support of Israel’s inclusion in the contest, held in Malmö’s Hästhagen neighbourhood, drew about 120 people, police in attendance said.

Among the crowd of protesters waving Palestinian flags on Malmö’s town square was Greta Thunberg. “It is outrageous that Israel is allowed to participate”, said the environmental activist, wearing a black-and-white checkered keffiyeh over her shoulders. “We cannot remain silent during a genocide.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg attends the ‘Stop Israel’ demonstration in Malmo, Sweden. Photograph: Johan Nilsson/EPA

Pro-Palestinian protesters have accused the EBU of double standards. It disqualified Russia from Eurovision in 2022, saying the country’s inclusion would “bring the competition into disrepute”.

The EBU has defended its decision to allow Israel to compete, saying Eurovision is “a non-political music event” and “not a contest between governments.”

Palestinian flags have been banned inside the venue, but at Tuesday’s semi-final one performer wore a keffiyeh around his wrist.

Eric Saade, whose father is a Palestinian from Lebanon, wore the garment while performing his 2011 Eurovision entry Popular. The EBU later said he had compromised “the non-political nature of the event”.

“The EBU seems to think my ethnicity is controversial,” Saade said in a post on Instagram. “It says nothing about me, but everything about them.”

Ireland’s entry, Bambie Thug, was told to remove makeup from their face and legs that spelled out “ceasefire” and “freedom for Palestine” in a medieval Celtic script, according to the Irish Times.

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