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Pro-Palestinian protests set for Eurovision final after Israel qualifies

People wave flags during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Eurovision host city Malmo (Martin Meissner/AP)
People wave flags during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Eurovision host city Malmo (Martin Meissner/AP)

The Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden will see more pro-Palestinian protests on the day of the final after Israel qualified for the competition.

Eden Golan, 20, whose emotional song Hurricane was reworked from a previous track called October Rain, which was thought to reference the Hamas attacks on Israel, triumphed in the semi-final on Thursday evening in Malmo Arena.

She was congratulated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he was “proud” of the young star.

Rishi Sunak thinks the demonstrations are “wrong” and called the push for a boycott of Israel “unfair”, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said.

The Swedish Police Authority told the PA news agency that an estimated crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 pro-Palestinian protesters who marched through Malmo on Thursday were “very peaceful”.

The demonstrators, who were condemning Israel taking part in Eurovision amid the conflict in Gaza, walked through the streets of Malmo from Stortorget to Molleplatsen, and among them was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Police said nine people were warned about “disturbing the public order” and one man was arrested after allegedly carrying a knife and some tools in his bag.

The force said it has approved two demonstrations – both pro-Palestinian – for Saturday, when the UK’s Olly Alexander competes in the final alongside Ireland’s Bambie Thug and Golan.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister thinks that these protests are wrong and some of the scenes we’ve seen have been outrageous.”

She added that the UK shares “the deep concern of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and we raise this regularly” but the Prime Minister is “incredibly mindful of the Israelis and also Jewish people around the world who love Eurovision” following the attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilians.

The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman also said he understands the right to “peaceful protest”, though Mr Sunak thinks “it is wrong and unfair to call for a boycott of their act”, Golan.

She added: “We remain steadfast in our support for Israel and its right to self defence and its right to prevent a terror attack such as we saw from ever happening again.”

Sweden Eurovision Song Contest Semi-Final
Eden Golan will represent Israel in the Eurovision final (Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AP)

Alexander and Bambie, along with other Eurovision artists, released a joint statement in March backing “an immediate and lasting ceasefire” in Gaza but refusing to boycott the event.

At a press conference on Thursday, Latvia’s qualifying contestant Dons was asked about his message, and his reply appeared to make reference to conflicts throughout the world.

He said: “It was a special day for me in my life and I’d say I’ve never been so proud to be part of Latvian nation and Latvian, we’re the only country in the world that is in the shape of a butterfly.

“A butterfly symbolises hope and freedom because to be a butterfly, you have to fly and you have to be free. Every country in the world deserves to be free.”

Meanwhile Netherlands act Joost Klein told Golan she should answer a question on whether she is comprising the safety of other contestants at Eurovision.

A journalist asked Golan: “Have you ever thought that by being here you bring risk and danger for other participants and public?”

When Golan was told by the moderator that she did not have to answer the question, Klein chimed in, saying: “Why not?”

Golan said: “I think we’re all here for one reason and one reason only and the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) is taking all safety precautions to make this a safe and and united place for everyone and so I think it’s safe for everyone and we wouldn’t be here (if not).”

The Israeli act also said she was “overwhelmed with emotions” and that she was “super excited to go on stage once more, and share that of my love with everyone”.

Earlier, when Klein was asked if his song can unite people by music, he replied: “I think that’s a good question for the EBU.”

During the semi-final, Golan was applauded and cheered by the audience, while dressed in a flowing sand-coloured dress.

Sweden Eurovision Song Contest Semi-Final
Nemo of Switzerland is an early favourite for the title (Martin Meissner/AP)

That marked a change from Golan being booed during rehearsals on Wednesday, and reportedly facing shouts of “free Palestine” in the arena.

The event’s organiser said it will not “censor” the audience and encouraged the crowd to “attend in the spirit of the contest, embracing its values of inclusivity, celebrating diversity and being united by music”.

According to the AP news agency, she has been surrounded by security as she travels from the hotel to the contest venue.

Golan said on Instagram she is “going to continue to show up and perform and remind everyone that we are here to stay”.

Switzerland’s Nemo, whose operatic-pop song The Code is seen as one of the favourites to win on Saturday, has made the final along with Klein, with his irreverent and silly Europapa, and Norway’s Gate with the folkish Ulveham.

Also in the final is Austria’s Kaleen, Greece’s Marina Satti, Estonia’s 5Miinust x Puuluup, Georgia’s Nutsa Buzaladze and Armenia’s Ladaniva.

The EBU, whose members approved Israeli broadcaster Kan, has taken a strong stance, as in previous years, against political messages at Eurovision and flags and symbols from non-competing countries.

Despite the position, Tuesday’s first semi-final saw former Swedish contestant and opening act Eric Saade wear a keffiyeh pattern material, commonly used by people who want to show they are pro-Palestinian, on his arm.

The EBU said the body “regrets” the moment, while Saade said it was a “way of showing a part of my origin” and was a gift as a child from his father, who is of Palestinian origin.