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For Israel’s contestant, the Eurovision Song Contest comes with tight security, boos and cheers

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
Published: May 10, 2024, 8:21am

MALMO, Sweden (AP) — Eden Golan is in Sweden for the Eurovision Song Contest, but she is not seeing much of the country.

The 20-year-old Israeli singer is surrounded by security as she travels between hotel and the contest venue in the city of Malmo. According to Israel’s public broadcaster, she practiced singing while being booed to prepare for her performance in the pan-continental song competition.

Golan has become a focus for protests by pro-Palestinian demonstrators who want Israel kicked out of Eurovision over its war against Hamas, which has killed almost 35,000 people in Gaza.

A crowd estimated by police at more than 10,000 marched through the southern Swedish city on Thursday to chants of “Free Palestine” and “Israel is a terror state.” Banners accused Eurovision of being complicit in genocide and called for a boycott of the competition.

Another protest march is planned for Saturday, hours before Golan competes in the live Eurovision final against acts from 25 other countries.

Golan has largely stayed out of sight in Malmo, apart from rehearsals and performances at the Malmo Arena. While other performers have taken the stage for fans in a Eurovision park in the city, Golan has not.

She was one of 10 acts who made it through Thursday’s semifinal, which was decided by votes from Eurovision viewers around the world. Golan has been greeted with a smattering of boos, as well as applause, from spectators in the arena. Bookmakers say she is likely to finish in the top half of the final competition, decided by a mix of public votes and national music-industry juries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Golan for performing despite “contending with an ugly wave of anti-Semitism.”

“So be blessed, and know that when they boo you, we are cheering you on,” he said.

Golan’s song is a powerful ballad titled “Hurricane” – but that was not its original name. The song was first called “October Rain,” an apparent reference to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis and triggered the Gaza war. That fell foul of contest rules banning “political” content.

The retitled song contains less specific lyrics about going through a tough time, and asserts that “love will never die.”

Born in Israel to parents from the former Soviet Union, Golan spent much of her childhood in Russia and performed on TV talent shows there before moving back to Israel. She cites Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Whitney Houston and Justin Timberlake among her inspirations.

She has avoided direct political statements, but said it was “such an honor to represent my country, especially in these times.”

Speaking after the semi-final, Golan said she was “overwhelmed with emotions.”

“I’m just super excited to go on stage once more and share a bit of my love with everyone,” she said.

Associated Press writer Yesica Fisch in Jerusalem contributed to this story.