Protests Mar Concert by Israeli Arab Rapper Accused of Legitimizing Terrorism

'I can't even hate you,' Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar retorts at hecklers after winding up his concert in Haifa celebrating Jewish-Arab coexistence, held in defiance of Israeli culture minister's efforts to thwart it.

Rapper Tamer Nafar performs in Haifa on October 18, 2016.Rami Shllush

Protests erupted at a concert by Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar which went ahead on Tuesday despite Culture Minister Miri Regev's efforts to shut it down alleging some of his lyrics legitimize terrorism.

Confrontations broke out later as well among right and left-wing protesters outside the Neveh Yosef theater, after Nafar sang as half a dozen protesters waving Israeli flags booed him. Many also jeered at lawmaker Haneen Zoabi, who was at the event.

About 2,500 people were at the concert, including protesters. Police blocked dozens of proesters and far-right Israeli rapper Yoav Eliasi, also known as The Shadow, from entering the concert arena. 

As he wound up his performance, Nafer told the crowd: "I speak two languages, because I'm a man who knows how to talk. I wish to thank everyone after the difficult week that has passed. To those booing me – I can't even hate you."

Protests erupt at Israeli Arab rapper's concert in Haifa

One protester said: "We are angry at Miri Regev for not fighting this out, for allowing Haifa to be offended, a city of coexistence. We have no problem with Arab artists performing, there are many Arab artists who believe in coexistence, they could have brought someone else to perform."

Before the show Haifa residents and Likud activists launched competing Facebook pages: "We won't give in to the racists," went the slogans on the "Haifa awaits Tamer Nafar" page on the social media site, while the Likud led calls on its page to have the show cancelled, some activists threatening to "blow up" the concert.

People wave the Israeli flag at rapper Tamer Nafar's show on October 18, 2016.Rami Shllush

Earlier Regev blasted Haifa's Municipality for giving Nafar a stage in defiance of her appeals.

Haifa's City Hall said in statement that the festival is a longstanding event that brings Jews and Arabs together and “will take place as planned.”

On Sunday, the eve of the Sukkot holiday when the decision was made to go ahead with the show, Regev protested in writing to Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, calling it "unfortunate" that a platform was provided "for an artist like Nafar, who chooses at every opportunity and before every possible audience to come out against the idea of the State of Israel and its existence as the state of the Jewish people.”

Regev had stormed out of a film award ceremony a month ago after Nafar and Jewish performer, Yossi Zabari, recited verses from "Write it down, I am an Arab," by Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet. Regev said the ceremony had "crossed several red lines."

In her letter to Yahav, she objected to Nafar’s "Who's the Terrorist," lyrics, which also go: "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."  

Israeli Arabs, and Jews, one of whom holds a national flag, head toward an Israeli Arab rapper's concert in Haifa on October 18, 2016.Rami Sheloush

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

Nafar told Haaretz he was pleased to dispel the rumors of a change in program.

Saying that he was pleased to be appearing at the opening, Nafar stated: “I know that many people have waited for this, both Arabs and Jews.” He said he had received offers from Jews of other venues where he could perform when it had appeared that he would not be participating in the festival.

Two Likud activists who posted threats on Facebook were questioned by police Monday and released on condition they steer clear of the festival. Police noted that "the event ended with none arrested or detained."