Israel in spotlight at Eurovision semi-final as pro-Palestinian protests LOOM

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

MALMO, Sweden (Reuters) –The second semi-final of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Sweden on Thursday, with Israel’s performance expected to draw attention due to large pro-Palestinian protests planned in host city Malmo.

Some 100,000 visitors have gathered in the southern Swedish city for the annual kitsch-fest, which is taking place amid protests and boycotts over the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Swedish authorities have heightened security and are bracing for possible unrest during Eurovision week. Police officers have been seen patrolling the streets of Malmo and, from water scooters, the city’s canals.

“There are sometimes more police than people in sequins, but overall great fun, we’re having a great time,” United Kingdom supporter Francesca Gaffey said ahead of the first semi-final on Tuesday.

Metal barricades and large concrete blocks have been put up around Malmo Arena, which is hosting the competition, with police guarding the venue and checking visitors’ bags.

Visitors have to pass through metal detectors before entering the arena, and are only allowed to bring small purses into the venue.

Thursday’s semi-final will feature two of the favourites to win, Switzerland’s Nemo with the song “The Code” and Joost Klein of the Netherlands with the song “Europapa”, as well as outsider Eden Golan of Israel with her song “Hurricane”.

There is high security around the delegations from all the countries, according to Malmo police. “We’re keeping a bit of an extra eye on Israel of course, because of the situation,” Lotta Svensson, a police incident commander, told Reuters on Sunday.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organises the event, has resisted calls for Israel to be excluded but asked the country to modify the lyrics of its original song “October Rain”, which appeared to reference the Hamas attack.

Tens of thousands are expected at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in central Malmo at 1300 GMT on Thursday. A smaller nearby pro-Israel demonstration is scheduled for 1600 GMT.

Gaza-born Swedish student and Palestinian activist Bachar Garar, 23, will protest what he calls double standards, pointing to EBU’s decision to ban Russia after it invaded Ukraine in 2022.

    “After everything that happened, how they’ve treated Russia after what happened in Ukraine, they just choose to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Gaza. So that’s hypocrisy for us and we’re trying to put an end to it,” he said. 

Israeli contestant Golan, 20, says she hopes her performance will help unite people.

“It’s a super important moment for us, especially this year,” she told Reuters in an interview this week. “I feel honoured to have the opportunity to be the voice of my country.”

Thursday’s semi-final is due to begin at 1900 GMT and will also feature contestants from Malta, Albania, Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark, Armenia, Latvia, San Marino, Georgia, Belgium, Estonia and Norway.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Louise Breusch Rasmussen in Copenhagen, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jan Harvey)