Protester says 'can't have fun knowing that Israel is there'

Israel’s Eurovision success sparks boycott calls; Dutch singer pulled from rehearsal

Far-left party in Spain’s ruling coalition launches petition urging Israel’s disqualification; EBU says leaked Italian vote results showing massive lead for Eden Golan ‘incomplete’

Israeli Eurovision contestant Eden Golan rehearsing her song "Hurricane" on the eve of the final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2024 on May 10, 2024 at the Malmo Arena, Sweden. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)
Israeli Eurovision contestant Eden Golan rehearsing her song "Hurricane" on the eve of the final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2024 on May 10, 2024 at the Malmo Arena, Sweden. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Israel’s qualification for the Eurovision final triggered fresh boycott calls Friday on the eve of the showpiece event, while the Dutch contestant was mysteriously pulled from rehearsals.

Hours after thousands of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel demonstrators marched through Malmo in Sweden to protest Israel’s participation in the competition Thursday, Israeli singer Eden Golan made it through to the final.

On Friday, German Culture Minister Claudia Roth denounced as “absolutely unacceptable” calls to boycott Israeli artists.

“Especially in these times, we need more cultural cooperation between Europe and Israel,” she posted on X, formerly Twitter.

France’s European Affairs Minister Jean-Noel Barrot took a similar line in an interview with Liberation newspaper. “Politics has no place in Eurovision,” he insisted.

But in Spain, the far-left Sumar party, part of the coalition government, on Friday launched a petition calling for Israel to be excluded from the competition.

Joost Klein, who represents the Netherlands takes the stage during the dress-rehearsal on the eve of the final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2024 on May 10, 2024 at the Malmo Arena, Sweden. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

It condemned competition organizers the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for letting Israel participate while “its army is exterminating the Palestinian people and razing its land,” referring to the ongoing war in Gaza that was triggered by Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack.

Israel now becomes one of the 26 nations competing Saturday in a contest watched around the world by millions of lovers of the pop sounds — and kitschy shows.

Some online betting sites list Golan as among the favorites to win this year’s edition, along with Baby Lasagna from Croatia, Ukraine’s Alyona Alyona & Jerry Heil, and Nemo from Switzerland.

Israel climbed to second favorite from ninth after the semi-final, according to Eurovision World, a website that compiles betting odds from 15 of Europe’s biggest bookmakers. It said Israel is seen as having a 22 percent chance of winning, behind only Croatia’s Baby Lasagna who was seen having a 41% chance.

The peak in odds came after Italy’s results were broadcast during the show, in an apparent leak, which the EBU said were “published in error” and were “incomplete.”

The EBU, which organizes the song contest, did not elaborate on how the results, which showed that a whopping 39% of votes from Italy went to Israel’s Eden Golan, were inaccurate. It said that it was investigating the incident, in which RAI, Italy’s public broadcaster, seemed to accidentally publish the country’s voting numbers, but stressed that Italy submitted a “valid vote.” The EBU said it told RAI that the move was “in breach of the rules.”

Results from the contest’s semifinals are not meant to be published until after the final, slated for Saturday night, is completed.

A controversial entry

There was more controversy backstage after the competition organizers announced that Dutch competitor Joost Klein had been prevented from rehearsing Friday after an unspecified “incident.”

“We are currently investigating an incident surrounding the Dutch entry. Klein will not rehearse for the time being,” said an EBU statement.

SVT state broadcaster suggested the incident in question had been a confrontation with a photographer.

During rehearsals, Klein had paraded with other participants ahead of the performances but later did not get on stage when it was his turn.

At the end of Thursday’s semi-final, the 26-year-old had appeared to object to being placed beside Golan, at several points covering his face with a Dutch flag.

This is not the first time that international conflict has overshadowed Eurovision.

In 2022, Russia’s state broadcaster was excluded from the EBU following the invasion of Ukraine.

This year, Israel’s participation and the choice of song have been met with controversy.

Golan’s song is an adaptation of an earlier version named “October Rain.” She modified it after contest organizers deemed it too political because of its apparent allusions to the Hamas massacres in southern communities on October 7.

Before she qualified for the final, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wished Golan good luck, saying she had “already won” by enduring the protests that he called a “horrible wave of antisemitism.”

Eurovision expert Paul Jordan told Reuters it was much easier to vote for a country than against, as people who might want to see Israel do poorly will see their votes spread over many different countries.

“I think if people don’t like Israel they can vote for other countries but the ones that really want Israel to do well, whether it’s because of the song or the country, then they will vote for Israel,” he said.

Israel’s Eden Golan (center) celebrates advancing to the final during the second semifinal at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Jordan, who sees Israel doing well in the final but not winning, said “Hurricane” — a power ballad that describes a person going through a storm of emotions — would go down well with the juries.

“They tend to vote for things which are more serious, they tend to vote for the artists who have the best voices,” he said.

‘Can’t have fun knowing that Israel is there’

Golan’s presence in the contest has provoked pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests.

In Malmo on Thursday, more than 10,000 people including climate activist Greta Thunberg gathered in the main square before marching through the city’s central pedestrian shopping street, according to police estimates.

Malmo is home to a large immigrant population, including many of Palestinian and other Middle Eastern origins.

“I am a Eurovision fan and it breaks my heart, but I’m boycotting,” 30-year-old protester Hilda, who did not want to provide her surname, told AFP.

“I can’t have fun knowing that Israel is there participating when all those kids are dying. I think it’s just wrong.”

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)

Elsewhere in Malmo, about 100 counter-protesters gathered under police protection to express their support for Israel.

Swedish police said Israel potentially winning the competition would not alter its security plans and that there were no indications that there would be any public disturbances on Saturday.

In the final, audience votes will make up only half of the result, while juries of five music professionals in each participating country will make up the other half.

Israel’s participation in the competition has been mired in controversy over the war in Gaza, which was sparked when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern communities, murdering 1,200 people, mostly civilians and taking 252 hostages.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, at least 34,943 Palestinians have been killed and 78,572 injured in Israel’s military offensive in Gaza since October 7. The figures have not been independently verified, do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and include at least 15,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

A total of 271 IDF soldiers have been killed in the army’s Gaza ground operation.

Several petitions this year have called for Israel’s exclusion from the 68th edition of the competition.

At the end of March, contestants from nine countries, including Swiss favorite Nemo, called for a lasting ceasefire.

Most Popular
read more: