Thousands of Pro-Palestinian Protesters Swarm Outside Israeli Eurovision Contestant Eden Golan’s Hotel

The nation’s entry, originally titled “October Rain,” was ultimately retitled “Hurricane” as the song contest sought to avoid politics

A group of protesters interact with police in large numbers outside.
Police face pro-Palestinian protesters in central Malmö during the 68th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) in Malmö Arena, Sweden, on May 9, 2024. This year's ESC competition has faced calls for Israel to be excluded over the war in Gaza, which the organizers refused. Thousands of people are expected to attend pro-Palestinian rallies throughout the week in Malmo. (Photo by Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered Thursday in Malmö, Sweden to protest Israel’s entry into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, with some protesters swarming near the hotel of Israel’s representative in the contest, according to some observers. Singer Eden Golan was advised by her nation’s Shin Bet security agency to stay in her hotel room when not actively rehearsing or performing due to security concerns, the Sun reports. Those concerns included threats against the Israeli delegation to the contest.

Golan, 20, appeared to be booed while performing the nation’s submission, “Hurricane,” during rehearsals on Wednesday, the BBC reports. However, her song seemed to receive a warmer reception during part two of the Eurovision semifinals on Thursday. Israel also advanced coming out of the semifinals, so the nation will be competing again in Saturday’s finals.

At the press conference after the semifinals, Golan was asked by a Polish journalist, “Have you ever thought that by being here, you bring risk and danger for other participants and [the] public?” While the moderator was quick to tell Golan that she didn’t have to answer the question if she didn’t want to, Golan chose to respond.

“I think we’re all here for one reason, and one reason only,” Golan began, “and the E.B.U. [European Broadcasting Union] is taking all safety precautions to make this a safe and united place for everyone. And so I think it’s safe for everyone, and we wouldn’t be here for any other reason.”

Israel’s entry in this year’s contest has been controversial since before a song was even released. The controversy came following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas and the subsequent sustained military offensive by Israel’s military in Gaza. Protests were expected, which led Swedish police to bring in additional support form Denmark and Norway.

The contest rejected the nation’s initial submission, “October Rain,” which made direct reference to the Oct. 7 attacks. It later accepted a rewritten version of the song, retitled “Hurricane” and rewritten with more metaphorical lyrics.

Eurovision answered several questions about Israel’s participation in an official FAQ, specifically around the nation’s participation. The contest notes that it is open to all members of the European Broadcasting Union, which represents broadcasters across both Europe and the Middle East.

“The Israeli public service broadcaster has been a member of the EBU since 1957 and has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest for 50 years,” the contest notes in its FAQ. “The Eurovision Song Contest remains a non-political event that unites audiences around the world through music.”

A former Swedish contestant, Eric Saade, broke Eurovision rules Thursday by appearing on the live broadcast wearing a keffiyeh in support of Palestinians. Fans were warned not to bring Palestinian flag into the arena where the contest is being broadcast. Ireland’s contestant, Bambie Thug, told reporters that they were required to change their outfit ahead of the semifinals after initially wearing Celtic writing that spelled “ceasefire” and “freedom for Palestine.”

The contest’s deputy director general, Jean Philip De Tender, issued a statement last month addressing abuse and harassment of participants.

“The European Broadcasting Union acknowledges the depth of feeling and the strong opinions that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest — set against the backdrop of a terrible war in the Middle East — has provoked,” the statement read. “We have all been affected by the images, stories and the unquestionable pain suffered by those in Israel and in Gaza.”

Later in its statement, Tender added, “While we strongly support freedom of speech and the right to express opinions in a democratic society, we firmly oppose any form of online abuse, hate speech, or harassment directed at our artists or any individuals associated with the contest. This is unacceptable and totally unfair, given the artists have no role in this decision.”

Golan has also said before that she plans to report for Israel’s mandatory military service following her participation in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Swedish singer Loreen, who won last year’s Eurovision, told the BBC that she understood why people were choosing to protest, but said that she thought it was “not fair” and “unconstructive” for the audience to boo Golan.

“All of us are affected by what’s going on [but] we don’t know what to do, because it’s such a complex situation,” Loreen said. “Some react with aggression, some cry, some shut down. We are different in that way, so I understand where it [the protesting] comes from.”

The Eurovision Song Contest, which began in 1956, traditionally seeks to avoid politics. However, it has often found itself in the midst of political disputes at times throughout its long history. There are dozens of countries that participate, both from Europe and beyond.

You can watch the music video for Israel and Eden Golan’s song “Hurricane” below:

Just 10 of the 16 countries who participated in Thursday’s semifinals will go on to the finals this Saturday. Votes are allowed from around the world through the Eurovision app, though votes from non-Eurovision participants aren’t weighted as heavily.

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