Israel to perform at Eurovision semi-final as pro-Palestinian protests loom

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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 Malmo in southern Sweden for the annual kitsch-fest, which is watched by some 200 million people worldwide.

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Thursday’s semi-final will feature two of the favorites 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.”

The 68th version of the song contest takes place amid protests and boycotts over the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the event, has resisted calls for Israel to be excluded but asked Israel 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.

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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
honored to have the opportunity to be the voice of my country”

At the first semi-final on Tuesday, thousands of fans in quirky and glittery outfits, many dressed up as their favorite contestant or in their national colors, saw 10 performers, including favorites Croatia and Ukraine, qualify for Saturday’s final.

Swedish authorities have heightened security and are bracing for possible unrest during Eurovision week.

“There are sometimes more police than people in sequins, but overall great fun, we’re having a great time,” said United Kingdom supporter Francesca Gaffey, wearing colorful rhinestones on her forehead, a flower headband and a t-shirt with the Eurovision slogan ‘United by Music.’

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.

Bookmakers have Croatia, Switzerland, Italy and Ukraine as the favorites to win, while streaming data from Spotify suggests a strong chance for the Netherlands or host nation Sweden.

Read more:

Eurovision condemns Swedish contestant who wore Palestinian keffiyeh during show

Israel’s Eurovision contestant Eden Golan hopes to ‘unite by music’

Israel issues warning for citizens traveling to Sweden for Eurovision

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