Israeli singer Shlomo Gronich is facing intense criticism for saying during a performance Tuesday that he was glad the audience was made up of “Ashkenazim” and that “there’s not a single chakhchakh here,” using a derogatory term for Mizrahi Jews.
Gronich made the comments while appearing at the annual Ein Gev Music Festival on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Speaking at the end of his performance, the artist said: “You’re a wonderful audience. This is the audience I want. You’re all such Ashkenazim, singing nicely, there’s not a single chakhchakh here,” he said.
Gronich then also used a derogatory term for Ashkenazi Jews, saying, “You cooperate like vuzvuzim. I’m proud of you.”
The host, journalist Nesli Barda, came up on stage and reprimanded Gronich. “You didn’t notice that all of Israel is sitting here in the audience, and that’s why this audience is so beautiful.”
Gronich then came back up to the stage and said he wanted to “apologize to all of you. I shouldn’t have said that. It was a slip of the tongue. I’m sorry.”
He later said in a statement that his comments were “idiotic” and “a bad joke,” adding: “In light of my [artistic] cooperations over the years, one cannot say I’m a racist.”
However, a clip of Gronich’s comments spread through social media and elicited swift condemnations.
Culture Minister Chili Tropper said he was “saddened by Gronich’s ugly, divisive and unnecessary words.”
Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri panned Gronich’s “despicable, abhorrent racism.”
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton censured the “miserable and ugly comment that should not have been made. The type of expression that should be long gone from this world.”
The festival in a statement condemned the “wrongful, disparaging comment and we do not accept it in any way.” It said it went against the spirit of the festival and of all Israeli music events.
Veteran singer Yarden Arazi said: “As a homegrown Ashkenazi, Shlomo Gronich’s comments shot an arrow to my heart. For years I’ve toured the whole country, I love it and all its people. This vile, factually wrong and stupid comment makes me ashamed that we’re colleagues.”
On Thursday, Gronich’s family said he is suffering from dementia.
“Over the last year his condition has deteriorated and in recent days he was diagnosed by a group of medical experts,” his family said in a statement. “He has [mental] lapses that are characteristic of the illness and he is not always aware of the things he says.”
The family also reiterated his apology and noted that “Shlomo sang before everyone his entire life and had many collaborations.”
The 73-year-old Gronich has been dogged by controversy in recent years. In 2017, two women accused him of sexual harassment and attempted rape when they were minors, decades earlier.
The complaints did not result in legal proceedings, possibly due to the statute of limitations. However, the claims have led to protests against Gronich performances.