Palestinian rapper’s Haifa performance stirs discord

Police issue restraining orders against right-wing activists after culture minister seeks to have Tamer Nafar’s concert canceled

Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar (screen capture: YouTube)
Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar (screen capture: YouTube)

Despite objections from Culture Minister Miri Regev, the Haifa municipality confirmed that Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar will perform Tuesday on the opening night of the Neve Yosef Community Center festival, which runs alongside the Haifa International Film Festival.

Two right-wing activists were interrogated by police earlier this week after they wrote on Facebook that they “plan to break up the performance.” The two, members of the Likud party, were released Monday with a restraining order to prevent them from disrupting the performance.

Regev took to Facebook on Sunday to try and persuade Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav to cancel Nafar’s participation in the municipality-sponsored event. But after some indecision, the city confirmed Monday that the event would go ahead as planned.

In her letter to Yahav, Regev wrote: “It troubles me that a festival like the Haifa Film Festival, which has come to embody quality and close ties between nations and countries, chose to give the stage to an artist like Tamer Nafar, who takes every opportunity and every possible platform to come out against the idea of the State of Israel and its existence as a Jewish state.”

She added that “public funds should not be used to support activists who seek to undermine the state, its values and its symbols in the name of art and free speech.”

The city rejected her demand, saying in a statement Monday evening that despite the confusion and objections the show would go ahead as originally advertised.

“The opening performance of the Neve Yosef Community Center festival, which is a longstanding meeting of Jewish-Arab culture in Haifa, will take place as planned,” the municipality said. “We invite the public to come and enjoy the event. which promotes partnership and dialog.”

Nafar himself took to Facebook to say that many Haifa residents had sent him messages saying that would welcome him, “because Haifa is proud of the coexistence between the city’s Arabs and Jews.”

Nafar will perform alongside the singer Dikla, an Israeli Jew of Moroccan-Iraqi descent whose works are heavily influenced by Arab music, and Gili Yalo, an anti-racism activist who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as a child.

Many of Nafar’s songs speak of Israeli oppression and violence. Regev, in her Facebook post, drew attention to the lyrics to the song “Who is a terrorist,” released by Nafar with his band DAM, which includes the following lyrics: “Democracy? Why? It reminds me of the Nazis, You’ve raped the Arab soul, and it became pregnant, giving birth to a child called ‘terror attack,’ And then you call us terrorists” (translated from Arabic by the artists).

Nafar often alludes to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in his songs. Regev previously referred to Darwish, regarded as the Palestinian national poet, as the “leader of the Palestinian industry of lies,” adding that “in his poems he preaches objections to the existence of a Jewish state.”

The rapper said Tuesday that there was nothing wrong with performing songs with lyrics by Darwish, and that in Haifa he would perform one piece based on a Darwish poem that says: “Let’s go together on two different paths, let’s go as we are united, and separate, let’s go each on his path and meet in the middle, let’s go the singer and his lover, let’s go and be free.”

Nafar said that the message of that song was one of unity, and that he would also be performing a song based on a poem by the pre-state Jewish poet Rachel Bluwstein.

The Darwish song is from the controversial movie “Junction 48” directed by Udi Aloni, which starred Nafar. It tells the story of a young artist fighting Jewish prejudice and Arab repression in the city of Lod. The film won Best International Feature at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in April. In February, the film won the top audience award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

At the time, Regev said of the movie that Israel should not fund films that slander the country.

On its website, DAM — short for Da Arabian MCs — claims to be the first Palestinian hip hop crew, formed in the late 1990s after being inspired by the “uncanny resemblance of the reality of the streets” in their home neighborhood of Lod, near Tel Aviv, to scenes in a music video from American rapper Tupac Shakur.

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