Israeli Culture Minister Urges City to Cancel Arab Rapper's Show

Miri Regev says Tamer Nafar's poetry legitimizes terrorism; the rapper says he has no intention of being silenced.

Jewish performer Yossi Zabari and Tamer Nafar, the Arab star of the Israeli film "Junction 48," raise their fist in a sign of protest during Ophir Awards. September 22, 2016.
Jewish performer Yossi Zabari and Tamer Nafar, the Arab star of the Israeli film "Junction 48," raise their fist in a sign of protest during Ophir Awards. September 22, 2016. Ilan Assayag

Tensions in Israel's culture sphere escalated again on Sunday when Minister Miri Regev called on the Haifa Municipality to cancel a performance by an Israeli Arab rapper due to what she described as his subversive ideology. 

Rapper Tamer Nafar, who has drawn criticism from the culture minister in the past, is scheduled to perform on Tuesday in the opening ceremony of a community theater event that is taking place alongside the Haifa International Film Festival. 

In response to Regev's letter, the Haifa Municipality said it has pushed Nafar's performance to a later hour and suggested that the show might be cancelled altogether. Nafar, in turn, slammed the city for caving to pressure from the minister and her "gaggle of racists" but added that he intends to perform as planned.

In a letter to Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, Regev wrote that hosting Nafar's show goes against the pluralism that the film festival is meant to represent. 

"It's unfortunate that the Haifa Film Festival, a symbol of quality and closeness between people and countries, has chosen to give a stage to an artist who takes every opportunity to go against the State of Israel and its existence as a Jewish state," Regev wrote.

In her letter, Regev also quoted a part of Nafar's poem, "Who's the Terrorist": 

"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."  

Regev asserted that "such words give legitimacy to terrorism," and added that "Public funds should not support activity that undermines the state, its values and symbols in the name of art and freedom of speech."

Responding in a press release, the Haifa Municipality said it has asked Nafar to perform at 10 P.M. on Tuesday, later than it was originally planned. Due to this change, the city said, Nafar is likely to cancel his performance.

Nafar responded in a Facebook post, saying that he has no intention of pulling out of the event. "I understand that the city is under pressure from the culture minister and her gaggle of racists, and it is hoping that I will cancel, but I have no intention of letting them silence me," he wrote. "I hope to see you all on Tuesday in Haifa."

The protest against Nafar's performance began earlier this week when Likud activists in Haifa announced plans to "blow up" the show. 

Last month, the culture minister walked out of the Ophir film awards ceremony after Nafar and a Jewish performer, Yossi Zabari, read a part of a poem by Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish on stage. 

Regev later told reporters that the ceremony had "crossed several red lines," noting specifically the use of the Darwish poem.