A top Tunisian singer and reality TV judge has defended himself after facing criticism for appearing in a photograph alongside an Israeli soldier.
Saber Rebai, a performer known throughout the Arab world and a judge on the Arabic version of “The Voice,” said he was unaware the soldier was Israeli and rejected any acceptance of the Jewish state.
The controversy broke out when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) posted a photograph on social media of a smiling Rebai posing beside an Arab Israeli soldier, identified as Hadi Khatib. COGAT is the IDF unit which manages civilian affairs with the Palestinians.
The photograph was taken as Rebai was crossing from Jordan to the West Bank ahead of a Friday gig in the Palestinian city of Rawabi.
COGAT captioned the picture saying it was “happy promoting concerts.”
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 23, 2016
The post was later deleted, but the image was widely shared on Palestinian social media, with one Gazan telling Rebai: “Shame on you.”
In a statement released on Facebook on Monday, Rebai said he was unaware Khatib was in the Israeli army.
“He introduced himself in Arabic as Hadi and said he was responsible for facilitating the crossing… so there was no communication with any Israeli,” the statement said.
Khatib asked for the photograph to be taken, the statement said, adding that Rebai had long been a “supporter of the Palestinian cause and rejected normalization with the Israeli enemy.”
The populations of many Arab and Muslim countries, even those that have formal relations with Israel, often reject any dealings with Israelis, seeing it as acceptance of the treatment of the Palestinians.
At this month’s Olympics in Rio, Egyptian judo competitor Islam El Shehab refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent after losing a bout.
Times of Israel contributed to this report.