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Protesters gather in support of Israel or Palestine during Eurovision contest in Sweden

Protesters gather in support of Israel or Palestine during Eurovision contest in Sweden
Protesters gather in support of Israel or Palestine during Eurovision contest in Sweden

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Just hours before the second Eurovision semi-final, on Thursday, May 9, Malmö looked like a city under siege: Helicopters buzzed overhead, while armored vehicles and hundreds of police officers roamed the streets. This unprecedented security detail had been deployed as two demonstrations were due to take place within hours of each other in the center of Malmö: one, called for by some sixty associations, to protest against Israel’s participation in the contest; the other, organized by the Jewish community, to support the Israeli candidate.

The first demonstrators gathered mid-afternoon in Malmö’s main square, which was soon awash with a sea of Palestinian flags. Signs calling for a “ceasefire in Gaza,” an “end to genocide” and a “boycott of Israel” could be seen. Families came and the crowd swelled as trains came in bringing protestors from neighboring Denmark.

Read more Subscribers only Malmö prepares for a high-tension Eurovision contest

In their fifties, Jeanette Volfbrandt and her friend Karima (who, like many of those interviewed, did not wish to give her family name) came from Copenhagen, as had a good half of the demonstrators. They thought that Israel should not have been allowed to take part in Eurovision: “It’s an apartheid state, which is currently committing genocide,” exclaimed Karima, who assures us that she will continue to demonstrate “until Palestine is freed.”

Soledad Cartagena, a librarian in Malmö, said she couldn’t stand the fact that Israel was “trying to whitewash its crimes” by taking part in Eurovision. The daughter of Chilean refugees who arrived in Sweden after the 1973 coup d’état, she deplored the tone of public debate in Sweden, which “equates all those who denounce what is happening in Palestine with terrorists.”

‘All children are equal!’

With her hair covered by a headscarf and her eyes brimming with mascara, Hanna, 33, considered that Israel should have been prevented from taking part in Eurovision, in the same way Russia was after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. She denounced Islamophobia, which she said has intensified in Sweden since October 7 2023.

The demonstration got underway just after 4 pm. The protest’s security service was on high alert. Masks and balaclavas were forbidden. The procession, comprising between 10,000 to 12,000 people according to the police, followed the planned itinerary. Some chanted: “Intifada revolution!” “Malmö, admit it’s genocide” or: “All children are equal!” There were groups of “psychologists for Palestine,” “health workers for Palestine” and young climate activists – including Greta Thunberg, draped in a keffiyeh.

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