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Eurovision 2024: Belgium broadcaster interrupts semi final to condemn Israel's war on Gaza

Trade union displays message calling for ceasefire, as Israeli entrant qualifies for final in Sweden amid mass protest
Israeli singer Eden Golan in Sweden's Malmo on 9 May 2024 reacting after reaching the final of the Eurovision Song Contest (AFP/Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix)
Israeli singer Eden Golan in Sweden's Malmo on 9 May 2024 reacting after reaching the final of the Eurovision Song Contest (AFP/Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix)

A Belgian broadcaster interrupted its coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest semi-final on Thursday night to display a protest message condemning Israel's war on Gaza. 

In an act organised by a trade union, the screen briefly went black ahead of the semi-final coverage on VRT, Belgium's public-service broadcaster in Flemish. 

It then aired the message: "This is a union action. We condemn the human rights violations by the state of Israel. Moreover, the state of Israel destroys press freedom. Therefore, we are interrupting the broadcast momentarily." 

The message concluded with the hashtags "CeasefireNow" and "StopGenocide". 

Israeli singer Eden Golan participated in the semi-final on Thursday in the Swedish city of Malmo, qualifying for Saturday's final. 

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The VRT chapter of the ACOD trade union for Belgian artists, technicians, and cultural workers defended the action. 

"With horror, we have been watching the events in the Middle East for months now," ACOD-VRT said in a statement. 

"We are convinced that the state of Israel is committing genocide, and therefore it is scandalous that there is an Israeli entry in the Eurovision Song Contest." 

A spokesperson for VRT told Belgian media that the broadcaster was aware the action would take place. 

"We were informed that it would happen. Trade unions have the right to take action and do not need permission for it. I can only confirm that we have taken note of the action," said spokesperson Yasmine Van der Borght. 

Earlier on Thursday, protesters gathered outside the main entrances of VRT and RTBF, another Belgian public broadcaster, criticising their decision to broadcast the song competition. 

In Sweden's Malmo, thousands took to the streets to protest against Israel's participation in Eurovision.

Eurovision 2024: Israel's contestant booed on stage as boycott calls continue
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Police estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 demonstrators had gathered. Among them was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. 

On Wednesday, Golan's rehearsal performance of the song "Hurricane" was met with audible boos from live audiences in Malmo, and shouts of "Free Palestine". 

Golan's initial song, "October Rain", had been rejected by Eurovision organisers who took issue with the apparent reference to the 7 October Hamas-led attack on southern Israel.

In the first semi-final on Tuesday, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) rebuked Swedish-Palestinian pop singer Eric Saade for compromising “the non-political nature of the event” by wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh around his wrist.

Ireland's act, Bambie Thug, said they also were forced to remove pro-Palestine symbols from their performance.

The artist had written "Ceasefire" and "Freedom for Palestine" in ancient Celtic script as part of their costume but was ordered to change it by the EBU.

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