The second semi-final of the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest kicked off in Sweden late on Thursday, with much of the focus expected to be on Israel’s performance after thousands joined a pro-Palestinian protest earlier in the day.

Some 100,000 visitors have gathered in the southern Swedish city of Malmo for the annual kitsch-fest, which is taking place amid protests and boycotts over the Israeli military campaign in Gaza that was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Eurovision fans dressed in quirky outfits, sequins and their national colours arrived for the event, while around a hundred protesters chanted “boycott Israel” and “shame on you” outside the venue before being ushered away by police.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg earlier in the day joined more than 10,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the centre of Malmo who object to Israel’s participation in the musical contest.

Police said protests were largely calm. Nine people had been taken into custody and one person was arrested on suspicion of a serious crime against the Knife Act.

Protester Eric Goran said in the past he would usually watch Eurovision, which is organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and has been held since 1956.

“This year I lost all respect for the EBU,” he said. “It’s clear that they can’t take a standpoint against what’s going on. I think the only right thing to do is to boycott Israel.

Swedish authorities have heightened security, bracing for possible unrest.

Metal barricades and large concrete blocks have been put up around Malmo Arena, which is hosting the competition, and snipers were visible on buildings in the arena.

Israeli contestant Eden Golan, 20, will perform her song “Hurricane”. In a video statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Golan for her participation.

You are not only taking on Eurovision in a proud and very impressive manner, you are also contending successfully with an ugly wave of antisemitism – and representing the State of Israel with enormous honour,” Netanyahu said.


Protester Amar, a Palestinian who declined to give his second name, said: “I’m here today because I see the hypocrisy and double standards around the world.”

“We are against what’s happening in Gaza right now. But I also want people to understand that we don’t hate Jews.

A smaller pro-Israel demonstration was held later on Thursday, a few hundred metres from the pro-Palestinian protest, with attendants holding hands and dancing in a circle to old Israeli Eurovision hits.

“I’m here to defend Israel,” said Rolf, 70, from the Swedish city of Lund, declining to give his second name.

“We are only a little group, but we want to be seen as well. I think it’s a shame that this girl from Israel who is performing today has to stand against all this… She certainly feels the pressure.”

The EBU has resisted calls for Israel to be excluded but asked the country to modify the lyrics of its original song “October Rain”, which appeared to reference the Hamas attack.

Golan says she hopes her performance will help to unite people.

“It’s a super important moment for us, especially this year,” she told Reuters in an interview this week. “I feel honoured to have the opportunity to be the voice of my country.”

Thursday’s semi-final will also feature contestants from Malta, Albania, Greece, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark, Armenia, Latvia, San Marino, Georgia, Belgium, Estonia, Norway and the Netherlands.