Israeli fans slam Eurovision snub as 'political'

Israel ranks with Croatia and Switzerland as one of the bookmakers' favourites to win (GIL COHEN-MAGEN)
Israel ranks with Croatia and Switzerland as one of the bookmakers' favourites to win (GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Music fans who gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday to watch the Eurovision contest decried juries' snubs of Israel as "obviously political".

The mood was electric at the packed Layla bar in Tel Aviv as the show got underway, with the crowd going wild when Israel's contestant Eden Golan appeared on screen.

Arriving with her long lavender-streaked hair and matching nails, Golan performed her song "Hurricane" wearing a white chiffon gown billowing in the artificial wind and smoke filling the stage.

As she performed, many at Layla, which bills itself "the best gay bar in Tel Aviv", voiced hope that she would win.

That would send the message that "maybe we are not hated so much, and that the music really won", said Tal Bendersky, 23, draped in an Israeli flag.

But as votes started ticking in, and it became clear that few of the juries representing the 37 countries with voting rights were offering Golan even a handful of votes, spirits fell.

Fans went from jumping around and waving Israeli flags to sitting downcast, some with their heads in their hands.

- 'People who hate us' -

"This is clearly political," said Guy, a 20-year-old who declined to give his last name since he did not want his family to know he was at a gay bar.

"Eden was amazing... But there are people who hate us. They don't see the whole picture," he told AFP.

"We didn't get much from the countries. That's obviously a political thing," Layla manager Tal Shur agreed.

"No one wants to show that they support us."

In the days before the glitzy contest, Israel had risen to being one of the bookmakers' favourites, alongside Croatia and Switzerland, which ended up stealing the show.

But a win for Israel was always a long shot, given the fierce controversy that has surrounded its participation in this year's edition of the competition as it continues to bombard and besiege Gaza.

The war started with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also seized hostages, of whom Israel estimates 128 remain in Gaza, including 36 who the military says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,971 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Golan's song "Hurricane" is an adaptation of an earlier version named "October Rain", which she modified after organisers deemed it too political because of its apparent allusions to the Hamas attack.

- 'Perfect' -

Before Saturday's competition began, police in the host city Malmo said at least 5,000 people were demonstrating in the streets outside the venue.

Thousands of musicians around the world had also called for Israel to be excluded.

While the country juries largely snubbed Israel when voting began late Saturday, a separate and equally important vote by the public provided Israel with a massive boost, catapulting it to a respectable fifth place in the end.

When the public vote came in, the fans in Tel Aviv went wild again.

"It was amazing," Shur said, hailing Golan's performance as "perfect".

"It was nice to see how people got emotional when she came on stage... She did something to us."

"When Israel was given super-high points, I was feeling very happy because it's (about) music", not politics, said Nelly Bernardi, 41.

However, she told AFP she found the first part of the voting "shameful".

"The (jury) points were given in a political way... It was quite obvious."