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Police outside Malmö Arena. Alamy Stock Photo

Large-scale protest planned in Malmö today to coincide with Israel's Eurovision appearance

Security is likely to be stepped up within the city today, ahead of the Israeli singer’s performance in the second semi-final.

THERE’S BEEN A sizeable police presence around Malmö’s Eurovision venue all week. Most of the officers patrolling the streets around the arena are armed and there are dozens of police vans and motorbikes on standby including at least one armoured vehicle.

If you’d landed in the city and somehow hadn’t heard of the controversy around Israel’s involvement in the contest this year, however, it’s possible nothing about the police presence would strike you as unusual – particularly for a large international event. The police on patrol are unfailingly polite and helpful and there’s no particular sense of any underlying tension. 

Authorities are leaving nothing to chance, however. Security is a major concern, especially since Sweden raised its terror alert level last year following a spate of Koran-burning events last summer. 

Police reinforcements have been called in from neighbouring Denmark and Norway. Jail cells in the city have been emptied and prisoners transferred in case of a surge in arrests.

A circling police helicopter serves as a constant reminder of the precautions being taken. A no-fly zone has been established over the port city for the duration of the contest to allow for the flying of police drones to monitor the streets. 

There’s likely to be an increased focus on security for the remaining days of the contest. Israel are set to perform in the second semi-final at Malmö Arena this evening. Given the current odds being offered on the contest, it’s likely they’ll also make a return appearance to compete in Saturday’s Grand Final. 

It was reported that the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency visited last week to coordinate security for Eden Golan, the country’s 20-year-old singer. The young performer – who sealed her place in the contest by winning a longrunning talent show back in February – is accompanied by a large security presence of her own and has been attending only essential events like rehearsals and live performances. However, she did stop briefly to speak to reporters in the media area yesterday afternoon. 

eden-golan-of-israel-performs-the-song-hurricane-during-the-dress-rehearsal-for-the-second-semi-final-at-the-eurovision-song-contest-in-malmo-sweden-wednesday-may-8-2024-ap-photomartin-meissner Eden Golan of Israel performs during rehearsals. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A large pro-Gaza protest is set to take place in a separate part of the city this afternoon, organised by the umbrella group Stop Israel. It follows campaigns across Europe calling on the European Broadcasting Union to exclude the country from the competition due to the ongoing bombardment of Gaza.  

The EBU has refused, consistently stating that the contest is a non-political one. 

“They shouldn’t be allowed to compete at all in this competition while they are committing genocide,” Pia Jacobsen, one of the protest’s organisers, told The Journal. 

Jacobsen said she was planning for thousands to turn out for the protests in the city, which has a sizeable Palestinian population.

“We want to highlight the Palestinian people’s right to live freely and in peace,” she added. 

Some Eurovision fans are also expected to take part in today’s march – including at least a small number of Irish fans who have set up a group and had a banner created with the slogan ‘Eurovision Fans Against Genocide’. 

Speaking yesterday morning, one of the group, Rory Flynn, said he knew of some longtime Irish Eurovision fans who had chosen to boycott the competition entirely this year. Others, he said, had decided to travel but to register their dissatisfaction with the EBU in other ways. 

“We want to stand up and make the point that this is wrong – and shame on the EBU for their inaction here.”

Israel, he said, is carrying out a genocide within Gaza, “and clearly they’re using Eurovision as a propaganda instrument”.

Artists from within various Eurovision nations have been signing letters and joining demonstrations calling for Israel’s expulsion from the contest since late last year – citing an apparent hypocrisy after the EBU took just days to ban Russia two years ago in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. 

Campaigners have also called on competing broadcasters and performers to withdraw unless Israel is excluded – often leaving pro-Palestine artists, including Ireland’s Bambie Thug, in an awkward position. (The Cork-born singer’s stance on the subject has been well covered elsewhere – but, essentially, they’ve said they plan to stay in the competition to act as a pro-Palestine voice during the contest). 

The debate has already spilled out onto the stage. The EBU said on Tuesday night that former Swedish contestant Eric Saade, one of the opening acts during the first semi-final, had compromised the contest’s non-political nature by displaying the keffiyeh symbol as he performed.

eric-saade-performs-his-song-popular-as-the-opening-act-during-the-first-semi-final-of-the-68th-edition-of-the-eurovision-song-contest-esc-at-malmo-arena-in-malmo-sweden-tuesday-may-07-2024-p Eric Saade displays the keffiyeh symbol - commonly used by people who want to show they are pro-Palestinian - on his arm as he performs his 2011 entry Popular. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

And while attempts by Bambie Thug to take to the stage while wearing make-up that spelled out pro-Palestine phrases in Ogham writing also fell afoul of the EBU, it’s likely producers will be faced with an even bigger headache tonight as Israel take to the stage. 

“We could well see protests in the arena, we could see booing,” Paul Jordan, a former member of the Eurovision communications team, told CNN earlier this week

Rory Flynn, the Irish fan taking part in today’s protest, said he expected “significant booing” at the venue during tonight’s televised show. Footage posted online from last night’s ‘as live’ dress rehearsal, filmed in front of a full crowd, bears that out.

So far there’s been no signs of any banners or other acts of protest outside the venue – although a small, ad hoc protest did take place during a Eurovision Village concert by Austria’s former winner Conchita Wurst at Folkets Park towards the centre of the city.

The Journal’s Daragh Brophy is in Malmö covering the contest and surrounding events – you can follow him here on Twitter/X  

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