Golan practiced singing while being booed to prepare

Defying haters, Israel’s Eden Golan advances to the Eurovision grand final on Saturday

Israel jumps up in the odds after accidental leaked results appear to show 40% of votes in Italy going to Golan; Belgian broadcaster interrupts show with anti-Israel message

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Israel's Eden Golan performs and qualifies for the final, at the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 9, 2024. (Courtesy of KAN/EBU)

Israel’s Eden Golan advanced to the grand final of the Eurovision on Thursday night in Malmo, Sweden, qualifying with her song “Hurricane” despite months of anti-Israel protests against her participation.

Golan will now return to the stage on Saturday evening to compete in the grand final, where oddsmakers have predicted she will finish in the top 10; Israel jumped up to second in the ranks shortly after the semifinal, after weeks of sitting in the 8th spot.

While a mass anti-Israel protest was held earlier Thursday in the southern Swedish city — as well as a much smaller pro-Israel gathering — Golan’s performance went off undisturbed.

Within the arena, a smattering of boos could be heard as she was on stage, as well as loud cheers, but the European Broadcasting Union employs anti-boo technology to prevent any such noises making it to the live broadcast. The Kan public broadcaster said that Golan practiced singing while being booed in order to prepare for her performance.

In her only comments on stage after completing the song on Thursday night, Golan simply exclaimed “thank you so much!”

The Italian public broadcaster appeared to accidentally reveal live on air the results of its country’s televote, handing Israel a whopping 39% of the votes, way ahead of the second vote-getter, Netherlands, which got just 7%. The vote distribution in the semifinals is not meant to be released until after the final, and the percentages are not generally published. The EBU did not respond to a request for comment.

At a press conference for those who advanced to the finals, held shortly after the show, Golan said that she felt “overwhelmed with emotions — it’s truly such an honor to be here on stage, performing and showing our voice and representing us with pride and making it to the finals.”

Golan was asked by a Polish journalist, Szymon Stellmaszyk, if she felt that she should not have attended the contest since it would bring “risk and danger” to the other contestants. A visibly taken-aback Golan was told by the host of the press conference that she did not need to answer, but she responded that “I think we’re all here for one reason and one reason only. And the EBU is taking all safety precautions to make this a safe and united place for everyone.”

The Israeli singer has been accompanied by a heavy security presence throughout the competition, and has skipped almost all events in Malmo aside from the live shows and dress rehearsals, in light of a wide range of threats made against Israel’s participation.

Eden Golan of Israel performs the song ‘Hurricane’ during the second semifinal at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Shortly before her performance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his best wishes to Golan, and commended her for standing up in the face of animosity.

“You’re competing not just in the Eurovision in a proud and very impressive manner, but you are competing successfully in the face of an ugly wave of antisemitism — and you are standing up to it and representing the State of Israel with huge honor,” he said in a video message.

A reporter from the Ynet news outlet posted a video online of a man being escorted out of the arena on Thursday evening while holding a Palestinian flag, as the Eurovision has a longstanding rule against flags from non-participating countries.

Ahead of the contest, a major anti-Israel rally was held in the city center, with an estimated 12,000 attendees, according to police. Local Swedish media reported that at least nine people were arrested at the protest, and police used pepper spray to disperse crowds. A much smaller pro-Israel gathering was held while almost entirely surrounded by police.

People protest at an anti-Israel rally ahead of the second semifinal at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Alongside Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Latvia, Estonia, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, Austria and Norway also qualified for the grand final on Thursday, and 26 total countries will be competing for the title on Saturday evening. That show is also expected to be accompanied by another major anti-Israel protest in the city.

The start of the broadcast of the show in Belgium on Thursday was interrupted by an on-screen anti-Israel message which was endorsed by a trade union within VRT, the country’s Dutch-language public broadcaster. The on-screen message said it “condemns the violations of human rights by the State of Israel” and accused it of “destroying press freedom,” while adding the hashtags and #CeaseFireNow #StopGenocideNow.”

In a statement, Kan said that it had asked the European Broadcasting Union to clarify the incident. The EBU did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Times of Israel.

Belgium’s Mustii — who did not advance to the final — wrote “peace” on his upper arm before going out on stage — which he did not sport during rehearsals.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, former Finnish Eurovision competitor Käärijä filmed a short video dancing with Golan, and then disavowed the clip after it circulated online.

Käärijä, who came in second in last year’s contest for Finland with “Cha Cha Cha,” and who is returning this year as an interval act, can be seen dancing jokingly with Golan in the clip that was posted on her own social media as well as that of Kan.

Not long afterward, Käärijä wrote on Instagram that he “happened to meet Israel’s Eurovision representative today and a video was filmed of us.” He wrote that the video was posted “without my permission” and that he requested it be removed. “I would like to clarify and emphasize that the video is not a political statement or an endorsement of any kind,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Kan said that the video was removed from Golan’s social media and will also be removed from Kan’s page after the request. At the end of his performance during an interval on Thursday evening, Käärijä shouted “thank you, I love you, no war!”

On Thursday morning, Kan issued a statement saying it had complained to the EBU about the booing heard against Golan in the audience as well as a series of minor political incidents during the first semifinal.

Kan “requested that EBU and SVT work to prevent a repeat of instances like this, and demanded that they allow Israel to compete fairly in tonight’s semifinal.”

In the first semifinal, opening act Eric Saade wore a keffiyeh around his wrist as a form of protest, which was later condemned by the EBU; Irish entry Bambie Thug says they were forced by the EBU to remove pro-Palestinian writing from their face and leg; and Australian musician Fred Leone says he wore body paint resembling a watermelon as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians. Political symbols are barred from the contest.

Saturday’s grand final will air at 9 p.m. Swedish time and 10 p.m. Israel time.

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