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Israel secures spot in Eurovision grand final despite protests

Some 100,000 visitors have gathered in the southern Swedish city of Malmo for the annual kitsch-fest, under heavy police presence as authorities brace for possible unrest.
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/ Source: Reuters

Switzerland and the Netherlands, two of the favorite's to win Eurovision 2024, secured spots in Saturday’s grand final alongside Israel despite large protests against the country’s participation and booing during its performance.

Some 100,000 visitors have gathered in the southern Swedish city of Malmo for the annual kitsch-fest, under heavy police presence as authorities brace for possible unrest.

Swiss rapper and singer Nemo, 24, qualified from the second semi-final on Thursday with the song ‘The Code,’ as did Joost Klein, 26, of the Netherlands with his song ‘Europapa.’

“Singing this song in front of a live audience and knowing that so many people are listening made me really emotional,” Nemo said during a news conference following the semi-final.

The song, a drum-and-bass, opera, rap, and rock tune, is about Nemo’s journey of self-discovery as a non-binary person.

“I think it’s really important that we have so much queer representation this year,” Nemo said, referring to Irish contestants Bambie Thug, who also secured a spot in the final after performing in the first semi-final on Tuesday.

Israeli solo artist Eden Golan, 20, and her song ‘Hurricane’ also qualified for Saturday’s grand show, which will feature performances from 26 countries.

Some booing was heard from the crowd before, during and after Golan’s performance but also applause and Israeli flags waving, according to a Reuters journalist in the auditorium.

“I’m so overwhelmed with emotions,” Golan later told the news conference.

Eurovision protests in Malmo, Sweden
Police use pepper spray and fight back pro-Palestinian protesters in central Malmö, Sweden on May 9, 2024. Johan Nilsson / TT News via AP

“It’s truly such an honor to be here on stage performing and showing our voice and representing us with pride,” she said, adding the organizers had taken precautions to make the event safe for everyone.

The solo artist characterizes her song as a strong power ballad that describes a person going through a storm of emotions.

Armenia, Austria, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Latvia and Norway also qualified for the final.

Eurovision organizers had resisted calls to exclude Israel over its military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, arguing that the competition is a non-political event.

More than 10,000 pro-Palestinian campaigners, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, staged a non-violent protest in the hours ahead of the semi-final, waiving Palestinian flags and shouting “boycott Israel”.

A smaller group of pro-Israeli supporters, including members of Malmo’s Jewish community, also staged a peaceful demonstration in the city, defending Golan and her nation’s right to take part in the contest.

Hundreds of artists in Sweden and elsewhere have pushed for Israel to be blocked from taking part, as did two Belgian government ministers earlier this year.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the event, requested earlier this year that Israel tweak its initial lyrics in order to participate, saying they had originally made reference to the Oct. 7 attack.

In a video statement earlier on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Golan for her participation.

“You are not only taking on Eurovision in a proud and very impressive manner, you are also contending successfully with an ugly wave of antisemitism — and representing the State of Israel with enormous honor,” Netanyahu said.