Palestinian Flags Fly at Protests Worldwide. They Won’t Be at Eurovision.

In the months after Israel began its military campaign in Gaza, thousands of musicians and fans from countries including Iceland, Ireland and Sweden signed petitions urging Eurovision’s organizers to ban Israel from the event over the high rate of civilian deaths and the widespread destruction in the occupied territory, where the United Nations says the population is now on the brink of famine.

The campaigners say that Eurovision’s ban on Russia participating after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine set a precedent. But Eurovision’s organizers reject the comparison. “We understand the concerns and deeply held views around the current conflict in the Middle East,” the broadcasting union said in a statement in January. Still, it added, Eurovision is “not a contest between governments.”

In a more recent statement on its website, the broadcasting union said it would not clamp down on pro-Palestinian demonstrations outside the arena during this year’s finals. The union “is a firm advocate for freedom of speech,” the statement said, adding: “We understand that people may wish to make their voices heard and support the right of those who wish to demonstrate peacefully.”

Dean Vuletic, an author of a book on Eurovision’s political history, said in a telephone interview that its organizers had clamped down on flags in 2016, in part to prevent the display of the symbols of terrorist groups like the Islamic State. They also banned flags from disputed territories and those promoting separatist causes — much to the annoyance of fans from Kosovo and Catalonia. Even the European Union’s flag, which was previously allowed, is now not permitted, Vuletic added.

Some fans said they accepted the policy. Sophia Ahlin, the chair of a Swedish Eurovision fan club, said in a text message that “it’s nothing unusual” to allow only flags from participating nations.

But others said the contest’s decision had turned them off. Straumland, the Icelandic fan, said she would not be watching this year’s event because of Israel’s involvement, even though Eurovision was “the biggest source of happiness in my life along with my son.” Instead, she said, she would be going to an alternative party, where drag and burlesque acts would cover old Eurovision hits.

And, she added, she would be taking a Palestinian flag.

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