Eurovision 2024 highlights: Switzerland's Nemo wins song contest final

Just hours before this year's Eurovision Song Contest final began in Malmo, Sweden on Saturday, about 5,000 pro-Palestinian protesters marched through the city center to protest Israel's participation in the contest.

Waving huge Palestinian flags and accompanied by drummers, protesters chanted slogans including, “Eurovision, you can't hide, you're supporting genocide,” and “Free, free Palestine.”

The demonstration, two days after a similar march in Malmö that Swedish police said included about 12,000 people, was the latest sign of some Eurovision fans' dissatisfaction with Israel's participation in the high-profile contest because of the war in Gaza. Was.

At Eurovision, singers representing their countries compete for votes from a music-industry jury and television viewers. Although not part of Europe, Israel has competed since 1973 and won four times.

For months, pro-Palestinian groups have called on Eurovision organizer, the European Broadcasting Union, to ban Israel from the contest. Thousands of musicians, including pop stars and former Eurovision entrants, signed petitions saying there was a precedent for excluding Israel from the event: in 2022, Eurovision banned Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The European Broadcasting Union has repeatedly rejected the comparison and has said that Eurovision is an apolitical contest aimed at uniting music fans, not dividing them.

At Saturday's protest, musician Loy Moghari, 39, wearing a hoodie colored with the Palestinian flag, said the Israeli government was “killers.” He said he wanted the contestants in Saturday's final to make pro-Palestinian statements from the stage and tell the truth about Palestine.

Compared to pro-Palestinian student protests on occupied college campuses in the United States, in which police have made numerous arrests, the Malmö demonstrations were peaceful, with few police officers visible alongside the marchers and little disruption in the city.

No arrests were made at Saturday's march, a police spokesperson said in an email.

Ulf Bjerreld, an expert on Swedish-Middle East relations at the University of Gothenburg, said in a telephone interview that many Swedes sympathize with the protesters. Gerald said that there was “very strong resentment” in Swedish society towards Israel's actions in Gaza.

Anti-Semitic hatred in Sweden has soared since Israel attacked Gaza on October 7 following Hamas-led attacks in which Israel estimates about 1,200 people have been killed, according to data from Sweden's National Council for Crime Prevention. Crimes have increased. The organization said in a recent report that there were 110 incidents between October and December 2023, up from 24 during the same period last year.

Malmö is a city of about 360,000 people, a third of whom were born outside Sweden, many of whom were from the Middle East. Over the past five months, pro-Palestinian protests have occurred regularly there and in other Swedish cities.

On Saturday, the march included members of Jewish Commotion, a small group of Jewish activists protesting Israel's actions in Gaza. Elias Rose Gordon, a 23-year-old member wearing a hat in the colors of the Palestinian flag, said Eurovision was “hypocritical” for allowing Israel into the contest when Eurovision had banned Russia.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations on Saturday were not limited to the city of Malmö. During rehearsals for the Eurovision final, attendees waved two Palestinian flags on the grounds of the Malmö Arena, according to Steve Baileys, 60, a British Eurovision fan who attended the event. Security immediately removed the item, Baileys said. (Eurovision did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said attendees are not allowed to wave Palestinian flags or banners bearing war slogans between Israel and Hamas.)

Slimane, representing France, stopped singing during rehearsals to call for peace. “Sorry, I don't speak English very well,” he said: “Every artist here wants to sing about love and sing about peace.”

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