Israel emerges among top favourites to win Eurovision

By Johan Ahlander and Anna Ringstrom

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Israel's Eden Golan has become one of the favourites among bookmakers to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest after she made it through the semi-finals on Thursday despite boos during her performance and protests outside the venue in Sweden.

Israel climbed to second favourite from ninth after the semi-final, according to Eurovision World, a website that compiles betting odds from 15 of Europe's biggest bookmarkers. It said Israel is seen as having a 22% chance of winning, behind only Croatia's Baby Lasagna who was seen having a 41% chance.

More than 10,000 people gathered in host city Malmo in southern Sweden on Thursday to stage non-violent protest against Israel's participation in the contest. More protests are scheduled for Saturday ahead of the final.

Israeli solo artist Golan, 20, with the song "Hurricane" was one of eight acts to qualify on Thursday for the final, despite boos from part of the audience before, during and after her performance.

Eurovision organisers had resisted calls to exclude Israel over its military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, arguing that the competition is a non-political event.

Eurovision expert Paul Jordan told Reuters it was much easier to vote for a country than against, as people who might want to see Israel do poorly will see their votes spread over many different countries.

"I think if people don't like Israel they can vote for other countries but the ones that really want Israel to do well, whether it's because of the song or the country, then they will vote for Israel," he said.

Italian public TV RAI on Thursday mistakenly published figures indicating Golan won maximum points from Italy in the semi-final, getting over 39% of the votes. The number of votes for or the shares of votes on each candidate are not public in the semi-finals.

RAI apologized for the error on Friday, also noting the data published was incomplete.

In a web poll by Swedish daily Aftonbladet from before Golan was cleared for the final, Israel received 40% of votes, far ahead of the Netherlands in second place with 8%.

Viewers decided the results of the two semi-finals, and can vote up to 20 times, either by phone, text message or via a Eurovision app.

In the final, audience votes will make up only half of the result, while juries of five music professionals in each participating country will make up the other half.

Jordan, who sees Israel doing well in the final but not winning, said "Hurricane" - a power ballad that describes a person going through a storm of emotions - would go down well with the juries.

"They tend to vote for things which are more serious, they tend to vote for the artists who have the best voices," he said.

Swedish police said Israel potentially winning the competition would not alter its security plans and that there were no indications that there would be any public disturbances on Saturday.

(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Nick Macfie)