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Amid Eurovision security fears, Malmo’s Jews mute celebrations for Israel’s Eden Golan

Jewish community claims police rescinded permit for pro-Israel demonstrations during the ‘apolitical’ song contest, running May 7-11. Officials say all protests off-limits

by Tunae
Red paint is seen on a Eurovision sign in Malmo, Sweden, on March 11, 2024, after it was vandalized in a protest against Israel. (SVT screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Red paint is seen on a Eurovision sign in Malmo, Sweden, on March 11, 2024, after it was vandalized in a protest against Israel. (SVT screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

MALMO, Sweden — As this year’s Eurovision host city gears up for the contest, which will run from May 7 to May 11, local fans of Israeli competitor Eden Golan are being told not to break out their blue and white flags too quickly.

Friends of the Jewish Community of Malmo, an umbrella organization that includes two of the city’s three synagogues, had made plans to cheer the Israeli singer as she arrived at Malmo Arena for her semifinal performance on May 9. Now, they say, police have put the kibosh on their expression of support.

“The police have made demonstrations off-limits in the area surrounding the arena,” said Jehoshua Kaufman, an active member of the city’s small Jewish community. “We had originally been permitted to stand outside waving Israeli flags to show support, but the police changed their mind and now say no to any such displays near the venue.”

The southern port city of 300,000 — home to a large Muslim minority that according to some estimates makes up a third of the local population — suffered from a rate of antisemitic incidents far out of proportion to its small Jewish community even before the October 7 Hamas-led massacre and subsequent war in Gaza. Local officials have heightened security around the event in anticipation of disruptions due to Israel’s participation in the contest.

Malmo Police spokesperson Nils Norling told The Times of Israel that the department is well-prepared for Eurovision week. Some protestors are expected to attempt to break the rules, Norling said, but the police have good intelligence and are trying to maintain an open dialogue with various groups.

While Norling stressed that the police take pains to remain neutral amid the heated pro- and anti-Israel debate, he added that police will not hesitate to confront any hate speech they encounter.

Eden Golan, Israel’s 2024 Eurovision contender. (Ran Yehezkel/EBU)

Well in advance of the competition, anti-Israel boycotters called on the contest’s organizer, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), to disqualify Israel from the competition due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. In addition, a Eurovision promotional sign was vandalized with anti-Israel graffiti in March. The EBU, however, has not bowed to the pressure, saying in a statement that Israel’s public broadcaster Kan “met all the competition rules for this year.”

Malmo Police spokesman Nils Norling. (Courtesy)

That’s not to say it was entirely smooth sailing for the Jewish state. The EBU disqualified Kan’s initially proposed song submission “October Rain” on the grounds that it was too political, but later accepted a revised version, now titled “Hurricane.”

The song’s original lyrics were thought to reference the massacre of October 7, 2023, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israel and butchered 1,200 people with stunning brutality, abducting an additional 253 to the Gaza Strip.

Since the terror onslaught and the subsequent war in Gaza, Malmo has been the site of frequent anti-Israel protests. Kaufman fears that planned anti-Israel rallies in the city may result in violence, as extremist groups pose a real threat.

In November, protestors burned an Israeli flag outside a Malmo synagogue and chanted “bomb Israel” while waving Palestinian flags. One local rally the same month saw people marching with a large portrait of Hitler. Meanwhile, Israel’s internal security agency the Shin Bet recently met with Golan, advising her and her team to remain in their hotel rooms for the duration of their visit to Malmo, aside from performances and official events.

A demonstrator burns an Israeli flag outside a synagogue in Malmo, Sweden, on November 4, 2023. (The Council of Swedish Jewish Communities)

When asked about the portrait of Hitler seen at the November anti-Israel rally, Norling noted that the police themselves reported the incident as illegal incitement, though no charges were ultimately filed.

Norling believes that the confusion around the canceled welcome for Golan may be the result of a misunderstanding, claiming that no groups had been given permission to gather and then asked to move elsewhere.

A small community with a big antisemitism problem

Sweden is believed to be home to around 15,000 Jews, with most of them residing in the capital of Stockholm. Malmo, meanwhile, boasted a small but strong Jewish population of 1,200 roughly 10 years ago. That number had dropped to 800 as of 2019 due to rising antisemitism and a local government slow to provide security for Jewish residents despite an alarming and ongoing spate of attacks against them.

Community spokesman and head of the Jewish Learning Center, Fredrik Sieradzki, even expressed fears that the community will be forced to dissolve by 2029 if the situation doesn’t improve.

Still, Sieradzki believes that the community isn’t defined by antisemitism, and he dislikes some of the foreign media coverage of Malmo — such as when an Israeli news crew deliberately sought out an anti-Israel demonstration and approached protestors. The hostile reactions the reporters received were predictable and were used to suit a preconceived story, said Sieradzki, adding that the city’s Jews face enough problems without unnecessary exaggerations.

Danish Jews arrive in Malmo, Sweden, to show their solidarity with the city's Jewish community. (Photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Illustrative: Danish Jews arriving in Malmo, Sweden in September 2012 to show their solidarity with the city’s Jewish community. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Sieradzki said that before the October 7 attacks, local politicians and authorities had begun to cooperate with the Jewish community to help combat antisemitism in the city. Much of these efforts came to a stop when the war began.

“Younger Jews are particularly exposed to anti-Israel sentiments on social media,” Sieradzki said. “Israel is demonized on TikTok, really demonized. And this hostility often amounts to antisemitism. People get scared, and some parents tell their children not to make their Jewish identity known to strangers.”

He estimates that there are up to 150 Jewish children and teenagers in the city, saying that such a small minority is always at risk when it comes to bigotry.

“But that’s not unique to Malmo,” he was quick to add. “The same could be said for many places in Sweden and Europe.”

Kaufman, meanwhile, is disappointed at the lack of media interest in the pro-Israel events he’s organized to draw attention to the hostages still in Hamas captivity — though the Jews of Malmo are somewhat used to being ignored.

“The local newspaper ran one article about us,” Kaufman said. “The media prefers to cover the rallies against Israel.”

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