Im Tirtzu Out to Stop 'Arab Idol' From Singing in Nazareth

Right-wing NGO urges interior minister to deny wildly popular Gazan vocalist Mohammed Assaf's entry to Israel, prevent him from promoting what it calls 'agitation and sedition.'

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Kaffiyeh-clad Mohammed Assaf, after winning 'Arab Idol' last year. Credit: AP

The right-wing organization Im Tirtzu is trying to block Mohammed Assaf, Gaza's hugely popular "Arab Idol" winner, from entering Israel to perform later this month in Nazareth, the Walla news website reported Thursday.

The NGO said it was sending an urgent letter to Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar urging him to deny Assaf entry into the country, where he has an April 27 concert date in Nazareth. The organization is also urging Sa'ar to keep a closer eye on state funds going to the Nazareth municipality, which, it claims, "apparently is making its residents more extremist day by day, in various actions against the country."

Im Tirtzu director general Matan Peleg said an Israeli city should not give a platform to Assaf's "agitation and sedition." He based this accusation on statements the singer allegedly made on tour abroad in which he dedicated performances to Palestinian "martyrs and prisoners," and described the state of Palestine as "stretching from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat."

Peleg warned that Assaf promotes Palestinian "implementation of the right of return" to Israel proper.

"The singer has already made statements on Arab media many times saying he will be glad to perform in Nazareth and before all of the '1948 Arabs' [Arab citizens of Israel], because 'this is our land,'" said Peleg.

"A performance like this only distances even further the Arab population in Israel from the Jewish population, separates them more from the society, and makes the communities more extreme and divided," he argued.

The office of Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem rejected all these claims, saying, "The political aspect is not the only aspect [Assaf] sings about. He isn't coming to free Palestine," and insisting that the performance would improve Israel's relations with its neighbors.

"Even his songs that have nationalistic content are legitimate, because he expresses his love for his homeland," the mayor's office said. "We live in a democratic country and it is this behavior of the Im Tirtzu movement that threatens the neighborly relations and coexistence between the communities."