Police officers tried to shut down a performance by a controversial Palestinian rapper in northern Israel, claiming that his lyrics amounted to incitement against the police and the state, but eventually relented and allowed the act to continue.
Though it occurred Saturday night, details of the incident only came to light late Monday night and Tuesday morning with videos of the police confronting organizers.
The performance by Lod-born rapper Tamer Nafar — who identifies as Palestinian, not Arab Israeli — took place at a Christmas fair held in the northern Arab town of Kafr Yasif, just east of Acre.
Nafar, a popular performer within Israel and abroad, is an outspoken critic of the Israeli government, leading many Israeli politicians to regularly call for his shows to be canceled. In 2016, then-culture minister Miri Regev famously walked out of an award ceremony during Nafar’s performance in protest against his lyrics.
At the show in Kafr Yasif this past weekend, police officers approached organizers and demanded that Nafar be taken off the stage on the grounds that his songs were anti-police as they included lyrics accusing the Israel Police of being racist.
“He is singing a song against the police, songs that are incitement against the State of Israel,” one officer is seen telling the festival organizers in a video that was widely shared. “So now he’s not continuing with his show. Now a security and permit officer is going to cancel this event, in accordance with the law. I’m done speaking. I’m done speaking, get out of the way until the officer arrives.”
BREAKING: Israeli police tried to stop Palestinian rapper @TamerNafar’s performance at a Christmas market on Saturday because he sang "against the police.” That same day police dispersed a demonstration in Haifa. The Israeli government is shutting down all avenues of free speech! pic.twitter.com/pQAnJhnRTR
— The Mossawa Center (@MossawaCenter) December 19, 2022
A spokesperson for Nafar told Channel 12 news that an officer also went up to the artist while he was performing and told him to “get off the stage or I’ll take you off.” Nafar refused, but as he was making his way offstage after his performance the officer grabbed him, whereupon festival organizers intervened.
“The police tried to shut down my show at the Xmas Celebration! Don’t worry, the show goes on. U cant stop the truth,” Nafar wrote in a tweet on Monday night.
The mayor of Kafr Yasif, Shadi Shawiri, who intervened on Nafar’s behalf, told Army Radio on Tuesday that the police officers’ actions were “a warning for anyone who’s a democrat, anyone who cares about freedom of expression.”
Shawiri added that during the event the police were effectively acting as security guards for the municipality as they were paid directly from the town’s coffers to provide security for the event.
The Mossawa Center organization, which advocates for Arab rights in Israel, harshly criticized the attempts to cancel Nafar’s concert, accusing the government of “shutting down all avenues of free speech!”
The Israel Police maintained that Nafar’s “songs that call for incitement” violated the agreement between the event organizers and the police, referring to a deal signed between the municipality and the police for the latter to oversee security for the event.
“The performance was not stopped and the singer finished his show as planned. The issue has been handed over to relevant officials in the police for consideration,” police said in a statement.