Sweden vows boosted security measures at Eurovision amid anti-Israel sentiment

With raucous protests expected, Malmo officials say heavily armed police reinforcements will be in place; Israel’s Eden Golan expected to be accompanied by security at all times

Eden Golan, winner of the reality show 'The Next Star to the Eurovision' during the final of the show on February 6, 2024. (Koko/Flash90)
Eden Golan, winner of the reality show 'The Next Star to the Eurovision' during the final of the show on February 6, 2024. (Koko/Flash90)

The Swedish Eurovision host city Malmo on Wednesday heightened security for this year’s song contest, which faces protests over Israel’s participation during the war in Gaza.

Authorities vowed “visible” measures including police with submachine guns and reinforcements from Denmark and Norway around the event, which is slated for May 7-11.

Normally associated with rhinestones and kitsch, this year the competition has become a more controversial affair with critics calling for Israel to be banned from competing as its war against Hamas in Gaza enters its seventh month.

Sweden’s third largest city, Malmo is home to over 360,000 inhabitants spanning 186 nationalities and a large part of the country’s population is of Palestinian origin.

At least half a dozen applications have been filed for demonstration permits to protest the Israeli presence at the competition, which is organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) together with Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT.

Last week, EBU deputy director general Jean Philip De Tender said that the organization understood “the depth of feeling and the strong opinions” that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has provoked, but “firmly opposes any form of online abuse, hate speech, or harassment directed at our artists or any individuals associated with the contest.”

Hosts Alesha Dixon, Graham Norton, Hannah Waddingham and Julia Sanina appear on stage during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2023 on May 13, 2023, at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, northern England. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

The EBU has rejected the calls to bar Israel from competing, saying that the competition is between public broadcasters, not governments, and that Israel’s Kan meets all the criteria to participate.

Malmo city authorities say the situation is under control.

“For the various events linked to Eurovision, security measures will be clearly visible,” the city’s security director, Per-Erik Ebbestahl, told a press conference.

Security checks will be stepped up, in particular for access to the various sites, where bags will mostly be prohibited, he said. The police presence will also be strengthened, with reinforcements coming from Norway and Denmark, and officers will be more heavily armed than normal.

“There will be a lot of police in Malmo this time, with their usual armament, but also with heavier weapons” including submachine guns, said Petra Stenkula, chief of Malmo police.

“We are not used to seeing them in Sweden and Malmo,” Stenkula said.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally and prayer in support of the Palestinians in Gaza, in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

The executive producer of the event for SVT, Ebba Adielsson, told AFP the security plan was “extremely stable.”

“Now what scares me the most is that people are too afraid” to participate in the event, she continued.

More than 100,000 visitors are expected to come to Malmo in the week leading up to the event.

Concerned for the safety of Israelis visiting the city for the competition, an Israeli official warned those attending to hide their identities so as not to put themselves at risk of attack. The official urged Israelis not to carry the nation’s flag and to speak in Hebrew discreetly, among other measures.

Meanwhile, Channel 12 News reported on Wednesday that Israel’s representative to the Eurovision, Eden Golan, will be accompanied by a much higher caliber of security team than any previously.

Eden Golan, Israel’s 2024 Eurovision contender (Ran Yehezkel/EBU)

A former Shin Bet official who was responsible for personal security, Mickey Weinberg, told Channel 12 that Golan will be accompanied by a bodyguard everywhere she goes while she is in Malmo. He also said that a preliminary team would likely head to Sweden earlier than Golan so that it could fully prepare itself for her arrival.

Launched in 1956 to foster unity after World War II, Eurovision has become a campy, feel-good celebration of pop music with an audience of hundreds of millions around the world. It has grown from seven countries to almost 40, including non-European nations such as Israel and Australia.

Organizers strive to keep politics out of the contest, not always successfully. Russia has been banned since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Most Popular
read more: