Before the Eurovision Final, a Pro-Palestinian March


Just hours before this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final was set to begin on Saturday in Malmo, Sweden, around 5,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched through the city center to protest Israel’s participation in the competition.

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

The demonstration, two days after a similar march in Malmo that the Swedish police said involved around 12,000 people, was the latest sign of some Eurovision fans’ discontent with Israel’s involvement in the high-profile contest because of the war in Gaza.

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

For months, pro-Palestinian groups have called on Eurovision’s organizer, the European Broadcasting Union, to ban Israel from the competition. Thousands of musicians, including pop stars and former Eurovision entrants, signed petitions that said there was a precedent for throwing Israel out of the event: In 2022, Eurovision banned Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The European Broadcasting Union has repeatedly dismissed the comparison and said Eurovision is an apolitical contest that aims to unite music fans, not divide them.

At Saturday’s protest, Loay Mogari, 39, a musician wearing a hoodie in the colors of the Palestinian flag, said that the Israeli government “were murderers.” He wanted participants in Saturday’s final to make pro-Palestinian statements from the stage “and say the truth about Palestine,” he said.

In comparison with the pro-Palestinian student protests at occupied college campuses in the United States, at which the police have made many arrests, the Malmo demonstrations were peaceful, with few police officers visible alongside the marchers and little disruption downtown.

There were no arrests at Saturday’s march, a police spokesman said in an email.

Ulf Bjereld, an expert in Swedish-Middle East relations at the University of Gothenburg, said in a telephone interview that many Swedes empathized with the protesters. There was “very strong discontent” in Swedish society toward Israel’s actions in Gaza, Bjereld said.

Since Israel invaded Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks in which Israel estimates about 1,200 people died, there has been a rise in antisemitic hate crimes in Sweden, according to data from Sweden’s National Council for Crime Prevention. There were 110 incidents between October and December 2023, the organization said in a recent report, up from 24 during the same period in the previous year.

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

On Saturday, the marches included members of Jewish Uproar, a small group of Jewish activists protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza. Elias Rose Gordon, 23, a member wearing a skullcap in the colors of the Palestinian flag, said that Eurovision was “hypocritical” for allowing Israel into the contest when it had banned Russia.

Pro-Palestinian displays were not limited to downtown Malmo on Saturday. During a rehearsal for the Eurovision final, attendees on the floor of the Malmo Arena waved two Palestinian flags, according to Steve Baileys, 60, a British Eurovision fan who attended the event. Security quickly removed the item, Baileys added. (Eurovision did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said that attendees are not allowed to wave Palestinian flags or banners with slogans about the war between Israel and Hamas.)

Slimane, who is representing France, stopped singing during the rehearsal to call for peace. “Sorry I don’t speak English very well,” he said: “Every artist here want to sing about love and sing about peace.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *