May 13, 2024 3 min read

Eurovision overshadowed by controversy with Israel protests and Netherlands’ disqualification

Controversy was a key feature of the Eurovision Song Contest this year, with protests against Israel’s inclusion and the disqualification of The Netherlands the key talking points. Switzerland eventually won the competition, just beating bookies’ favourite Croatia

Eurovision overshadowed by controversy with Israel protests and Netherlands’ disqualification

Eurovision organisers held firm to their insistence that the song contest is an apolitical event in the months leading up to the grand final on Saturday night. However, the decision not to bar Israel from entering due to the war in Gaza resulted in an incredibly politically charged edition - despite attempts to keep this off screen.

Large protests were staged outside the Malmö Arena in Sweden, where the contest was held, and elsewhere around the city. Booing was reportedly masked with pre-recorded cheering within the arena itself when Israel’s Eden Golan performed. Nonetheless, Israel’s song ‘Hurricane’ proved popular with voters. It came second in the public vote, but lower scored in the jury vote meant that the song ended up fifth overall.

In March, the EBU defended its decision to allow Israel to take part in the contest, saying that it is “a non-political music event” and “not a contest between governments”. However, last week, Ireland’s entrant Bambi Thug said that Israel’s inclusion had “completely overshadowed everything” and went “against everything that Eurovision is meant to be”.

There was also drama when The Netherlands was disqualified on Saturday morning. This came after organiser the European Broadcast Union announced the previous day that performer Joost Klein would not be taking part in the final dress rehearsals as it was “investigating an incident”. 

Initially it was speculated that the suspension had been as the result of a run-in with the Israeli delegation. In particular, Klein had heckled Golan at a press conference on Thursday night. 

In a statement announcing the disqualification on Saturday, the EBU insisted that the incident that led to the decision did not involve any other performer or delegation. Rather, it related to an instance of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a female member of the production crew” following Klein’s performance at the second semi-final on Thursday night. 

Dutch broadcaster Avrotros later revealed that Klein had made a “threatening movement” towards a camerawoman when he had come off stage, apparently because he had requested not to be filmed after his performance. 

With the matter referred to the police, the EBU said that it “would not be appropriate" for Klein to participate in the grand final "while the legal process takes place". Avrotros disagreed, saying that the move was “disproportionate”.

Another person who did not appear at the grand final was Kaarijia, who came second last year representing Finland. He was set to present the results of Finland’s jury vote, but withdrew after a video appeared online dancing with Golan. He was accused of making a political statement in the clip - something he denied, saying that the clip had been uploaded to Instagram without his permission.

As a result of the controversy, he said on Saturday that he had “decided not to participate as the spokesperson for the Finnish jury” because “giving out the points does not feel right”.

The opposition to Israel’s inclusion in the contest has been building for months. Many pointed out that Russia was barred from entering in 2022, due to the invasion of Ukraine. However, that decision was taken after a number of other national broadcasters threatened to pull out if Russia was allowed to take part. In the case of Israel, there was not a similar opposition to Israel taking part.

Israel did come close to disqualification though. The country initially put forward a song called ‘October Rain’, which explicitly referred to the attacks on Israel carried out by Hamas in October last year. The EBU said that this broke its ‘no politics’ rules and ordered that the lyrics be changed. After they were rewritten to become the song ‘Hurricane’, Israel was allowed to progress.

As a result, many viewers decided to boycott this year’s contest and some venues that traditionally stage events on the big night chose not to.

The EBU’s insistence that Eurovision is a non-political event after a feature of the event pretty much every year, when politics inevitably creep into proceedings. This year, however, politics were more prominent than ever, with anger as Israel’s inclusion impossible to ignore. Although the song’s popularity with voters was also undeniable. 

Switzerland was the overall winner of the competition, with the song ‘The Code’ by Nemo. Bookies’ favourite Croatia - represented by Baby Lasagne and his song ‘Rim Tim Tagi Dim’ - came in a close second.

Representing the UK, Olly Alexander did not fare well. His song ‘Dizzy’ received zero points from the public vote. He did better with the juries, coming in thirteenth in those results with 46 points (just behind Israel in twelfth position with 52 points). Overall he came in eighteenth out of 25. 

It didn’t seem like a fair result for the UK, when the performance of the song had actually been pretty good. Although it had never been seen as a contender by bookies, and it is probably fair to say that Alexander and songwriter/producer Danny L Harle could and should have turned in something a lot better.

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