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Israeli contestant advances to final despite protests, controversy at Eurovision Song Contest

Written by on May 9, 2024

Mohamed El-Shemy/Anadolu via Getty Images

(MALMO, Sweden) — Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Sweden on Thursday to oppose the participation of an Israeli contestant in the semifinals of the massively popular Eurovision Song Contest.

Protesters in Malmo, Sweden — where the competition is being held after the country won the 2023 contest — could be seen waving Palestinian flags and chanting “boycott Israel.” Later in the day, some Israeli supporters also came out to wave flags in support of the country’s participation.

Controversy has surrounded the song “Hurricane” by 20-year-old Eden Golan, Israel’s contestant, with many demanding she be excluded from the competition over Israel’s war in Gaza.

However, Golan was one of 10 contestants to advance to the finals on Saturday via a combination of fan and judge votes.

Golan received boos during her dress rehearsal for the competition on Wednesday, according to the BBC, but got applause when she performed on the show Thursday.

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There were no outward signs of protest during the show and Golan offered a loud “Thank you” at the end of her performance.

On Wednesday morning, Israel’s Foreign Ministry posted on X: “We are incredibly proud of Eden Golan who is representing our country at @Eurovision. She is not only an exceptional performer, but a symbol of strength and resilience. We ❤️ you Eden and our entire country is cheering you on.”

Last month, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the competition, released a statement condemning harassment and attacks against Golan on social media.

Yet, Israel’s National Security Council raised the travel alert level for Malmo and advised Israelis not to attend Eurovision, calling the Swedish city “an anti-Israel protest hub” with “often violent” demonstrations.

“These developments raise credible concerns that terrorist factions will take advantage of the demonstrations and the anti-Israel atmosphere to execute attacks on Israelis coming to Sweden for the Eurovision,” the National Security Council warned.

Several Israeli fans were shown waving flags in the crowd after Golan’s performance.

The popular European show drew in an audience of 216 million people last year, according to the European Broadcasting Union, almost twice as many as this year’s Super Bowl.

The EBU reportedly refused Israel’s entry to the competition twice, saying the lyrics to songs it had chosen were too political, according to Euronews.

A submission from Golan called “October Rain” was objected to by the EBU because the title and some of the songs were overtly political, according to The New York Times. She edited the lyrics and renamed the song, “Hurricane.”

In a statement earlier this year, the EBU defended the decision to allow Israel to participate, despite the ongoing conflict.

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“The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political music event and a competition between public service broadcasters who are members of the EBU. It is not a contest between governments,” EBU Director General Noel Curran said in a Jan. 31 statement.

“As a member-led organization, our governing bodies — the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group and the Executive Board — did review the participants list for the 2024 Contest and agreed that the Israeli public broadcaster KAN met all the competition rules for this year and can participate as it has for the past 50 years,” Curran said.

Facing backlash over the move in light of Russia being excluded in 2022 after the invasion of Ukraine, Curran said the relationship between Israeli broadcaster KAN and the Israeli government is “fundamentally different to the relationship that exists between those Russian Members and the State.”

“We are aware of the many voices calling to exclude Israel from this year’s competition in the same way as we excluded the Russian broadcaster in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine,” Curran said. “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make. In the case of Russia, the Russian broadcasters themselves were suspended from the EBU due to their persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values.”

Israel launched an incursion into the Gaza Strip following an unprecedented terrorist attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people, according to the Israeli government. Israel’s military operation has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

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Sixteen countries will compete in Thursday’s semifinals, including Israel, with 10 moving on to the finals on Saturday. The winners are determined by a jury of music professionals and a public vote.

Israel has won the competition — which started in 1956 — four times, most recently in 2018.

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