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

Protesters are waving Palestinian flags on American college campuses and in cities around the world to put pressure on Israel to end the war in the Gaza Strip. But there is one place where that symbol will be absent next week: inside the Eurovision Song Contest.

Attendees at this year’s event in Malmo, Sweden, which starts on Tuesday, will not be allowed to bring Palestinian flags or wave banners with slogans about the war between Israel and Hamas, a spokesperson for the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, said on Thursday.

Ticket buyers at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest are allowed to bring and display only flags representing the 37 participating countries, the spokesperson said in an email. That includes Israel. The only exceptions are rainbow and pride flags representing L.G.B.T.Q. people, the spokesperson added.

Eurovision has long billed itself as an apolitical contest. The spokesperson said although the flags policy was reviewed every year, it had not changed since the last edition, held in Liverpool, England. But the rule has upset some Eurovision fans who for months have been calling for the event’s organizers to ban Israel from taking part because of its military campaign in Gaza.

Inga Straumland, an Icelandic fan, called the decision to disallow Palestinian flags “appalling” and said in an interview that the move was “a strong limit on freedom of expression,” especially given that the flag of Israel, a Eurovision contestant, would be present.

Although Israel is not in Europe, the country is eligible to compete because its broadcaster is a member of the European Broadcasting Union. The country has won Eurovision four times since first entering in 1973.

This year, the 20-year-old singer Eden Golan will represent Israel with the song “Hurricane.” Until European Broadcasting Officials intervened, its original title was “October Rain,” and Eurovision fans have widely interpreted it as a statement about Israeli grief after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

The Eurovision Song Contest is the world’s most watched cultural event. Last year, over 56 million viewers tuned into the competition final live on television, with some 7.6 million more watching on YouTube.

Since Eurovision began in 1956, the European Broadcasting Union has banned political statements from the stage, insisting the contest should unify countries rather than dividing them. But this year it has struggled to stop the war in Gaza from making its presence felt.

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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