Eurovision message of unity tested by backlash against Israel

Eurovision organizers are preparing for thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators to invade the Swedish city of Malmö this weekend to protest Israel’s participation in the song competition.

This year will be the most politically charged event in its history after Israeli candidate Eden Golan qualified for Saturday’s final.

The broadcasting union which organizes the competition says Eurovision is “a unifying force, bringing nations and cultures together through the power of music”. But while the annual holiday often has a geopolitical overtone – and has included Israel for half a century – Israel’s involvement this year has increased tensions amid the country’s offensive in Gaza.

Heavily armed police have been deployed to monitor pro-Palestinian protests in the Eurovision Village, which hosts the 100,000 fans expected in Sweden’s third-largest city for the event.

On Thursday, ahead of the Golan semi-final, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters – including climate activist Greta Thunberg – staged demonstrations in the city. Golan, who was booed by the audience during dress rehearsals, said she was focusing on “the best performance.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the singer had “already succeeded.” . . you face a wave of anti-Semitism while representing the State of Israel with respect.”

Tensions have already colored the competition. Irish contestant, non-binary “goth gremlin” Bambie Thug, who had already qualified for the final, said on Instagram that he had been asked to remove pro-Palestinian body paint from his costume. Writing in medieval script included the words “Free Palestine” and “ceasefire.”

Bambie Thug performing his song
Irishman Bambie Thug will perform in the Eurovision semi-final on Tuesday. © Jens Büttner/dpa

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, said it would ban flags and symbols outside those of participating countries and the LGBT+ community.

Bambie Thug added in the post: “My heart and prayers go out to the Palestinian people. . . I am against war, against occupation, against oppression and against the killing of innocent civilians and children!!

Hundreds of artists in each of the five Nordic countries, including Sweden, signed separate petitions earlier this year calling on Eurovision to ban Israel from the contest, while many of the 26 artists performing in Malmö were victims of abuse on social media for participating alongside the Israeli act.

British Eurovision artist Olly Alexander was among those who signed a letter in response to calls for a boycott, arguing instead for the “unifying power of music”.

Israel’s National Security Council has urged its citizens not to travel to Malmö, calling it an “anti-Israel protest center.” Israeli media reported that Shin Bet security services advised Golan not to leave his hotel room for anything other than his performances.

She previously changed the lyrics of the song “Hurricane”, originally titled “October Rain”, because it referenced the devastating Hamas attacks on October 7 last year that killed 1,200 people and sparked the war in Gaza. Nearly 35,000 Palestinians were killed in Israeli reprisals.

Earlier in the competition, Swedish singer Eric Saade was reprimanded by organizers after wearing Palestinian clothing. keffiyeh scarf around his wrist during a performance.

Jean Philip De Tender, deputy director general of the EBU, said the organizer recognized “the depth of feeling and strong opinions that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest – which takes place against the backdrop of a terrible war in the Middle -Orient – ​​aroused”.

But De Tender said online abuse and harassment against artists was “unacceptable and completely unfair, given that artists have no role” in deciding which broadcasters will participate.

Eric Saadé performing his song during the Eurovision semi-final
Swedish singer Eric Saadé in Eurovision semi-final © Martin Meissner/AP

The EBU represents European broadcasters, including Israeli Kan, a member since 1957 and participant in the song contest since 1973.

Eurovision is the latest cultural event to face controversy over the inclusion of Israel, with similar calls for a boycott at the Venice Biennale late last year and clashes over other film events and artistic in Europe.

The singing competition, broadcast to more than 200 million people worldwide, claims it is “apolitical,” but it is no stranger to being used for political purposes. Pacts between groups of like-minded or geographically close nations often ensure that their actions progress, while rivals are awarded “null points.”

Russia, a former entrant, was banned a day after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Ukraine won the competition the following year, a result seen as a show of support for the war-torn nation. the war rather than the quality of his music. offer. Another political flashpoint has been the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In 2009, Georgia attempted to perform a song “We Don’t Wanna Put In”, widely interpreted as a criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The organizers rejected the song.

After Israel’s accession in the 1970s, Arab broadcasters refused to broadcast Israeli artists and threatened not to broadcast the competition at all during the years it was organized by the Jewish state. Israel has won several times, including with transgender singer Dana International in 1998.

Dana International performing
Israeli Dana International won in 1998 © Peter Bischoff/Getty Images

Local dynamics have added to the pressure this year. Home to one of Sweden’s largest immigrant populations, many of whom are Muslim, Malmö has suffered from a reputation for anti-Semitic incidents. This culminated with videos of cars driving around the city celebrating Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, as well as protesters burning an Israeli flag next to the Malmö synagogue in November.

Tensions have risen further since Swedish police allowed a couple – one of them wrapped in an Israeli flag – to burn a Quran over the weekend. Sweden’s NATO application has been delayed for more than a year due to multiple incidents involving the burning of the Koran by anti-Islam activists.

Malmö officials apologized this week after cleaning up pro-Palestinian graffiti ahead of the competition, saying it was an “unfortunate mistake”.

Protesters march in Stockholm
Pro-Palestinian protesters held a rally in Stockholm in February © Fredrik Persson/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP/Getty Images

The competition organizers also sought to defuse the situation. EBU boss Noel Curran said it was “competition between public service broadcasters who are members of the EBU. This is not a competition between governments.

Curran said the EBU was aware “of the many voices calling to exclude Israel in the same way we excluded the Russian broadcaster in 2022”.

But he added: “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and…. . . it’s not up to us to do it. In the case of Russia, Russian broadcasters themselves have been suspended from the EBU due to their continued failure to fulfill their membership obligations and violation of public service values.”