Israel qualifies for Eurovision amid protests

Israel qualifies for Eurovision amid protests

Israel qualifies for Eurovision amid protests

Israel qualified for this weekend's Eurovision song contest grand finale as thousands of demonstrators marched through Sweden's Malmo on Thursday to protest its participation over the Gaza war.

Singer Eden Golan performed her song "Hurricane" in Thursday's second semi-final without incident in front of 9,000 spectators at the Malmo Arena and booked her place in Saturday's final after a televote.

Earlier in the day, more than 10,000 people including climate activist Greta Thunberg gathered in Malmo's main square before marching through the southern city's central pedestrian shopping street, according to police estimates.

"I am a Eurovision fan and it breaks my heart, but I'm boycotting," 30-year-old protester Hilda, who did not want to provide her surname, told AFP.

"I can't have fun knowing that Israel is there participating when all those kids are dying. I think it's just wrong."

Alongside signs that read: "Liberate Palestine", banners that said "EUR legitimises genocide" and "colonialism cannot be washed in pink" could be seen in the crowd.

About 50 protesters made it to the front of the Malmo Arena, where the event is taking place, before being dispersed by a heavy police presence. Protesters also entered the Eurovision Village, where spectators can follow the concert on large screens.

In a different neighbourhood, about 100 counter-protesters gathered under police protection to express their support for Israel.

Earlier Thursday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday wished Golan good luck and said she had "already won" by enduring the protests that he called a "horrible wave of anti-Semitism".

The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas' unprecedented Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli official figures.

Israel in response vowed to crush Hamas and launched a military offensive that has killed at least 34,904 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Protests calling for an end to Israel's punishing Gaza campaign have broken out on university campuses in North America, Europe and Australia.

 'why not for Israel?' 

In 2022, Russia's state broadcaster was excluded from the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees Eurovision, in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

"I feel like if they can remove Russia why can they not do it to Israel?" said protester Marwo Mustafa.

"Hurricane" has already been partially re-written and given a new title after Eurovision organisers deemed the original version to be too political.

Since the beginning of the year, several petitions have demanded Israel's exclusion from the 68th edition of the annual music competition, which opened with the first semi-final on Tuesday.

At the end of March, contestants from nine countries, including Swiss favourite Nemo, called for a lasting ceasefire.

Protester Cecilia Brudell told AFP: "At six and nine, my children are now at an age where they want to watch Eurovision but this year we are completely boycotting it."