Israeli Arab Rapper Tamer Nafar to Perform at Festival Despite Minister's Objections

After Culture Minister Miri Regev blasted the rapper's planned performance, city authorities had considered scrapping his appearance.

Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar
Moti Milrod

Controversial Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar will perform at the opening of a festival in northern Israel, despite objections by the culture minister, who said his songs legitimize terrorism and undermines the state. Minister Miri Regev also blasted the city of Haifa for giving him a stage.

Haifa City Hall had considered cancelling or shortening Nafer's concert at a community theater festival on Tuesday, but later decided to let the rapper perform as originally planned. Culture Minister Regev had asked that Nafar be removed from the program, citing in particular words to one of the rapper’s songs that she said grant legitimacy to acts of terrorism.

City Hall said in statement that the festival is a longstanding event that brings Jews and Arabs together and “it will take place as planned.” The Neveh Yosef community theater festival, to open Tuesday, is held in conjunction with Haifa’s annual international film festival.

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Ophir Awards ceremony in Ashdod, September 22, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

On Sunday, Regev wrote to Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav about Nafar, stating in part: “It is unfortunate that a festival such as the Haifa film festival, which has become a symbol of quality and of bring peoples and countries together, is choosing to provide a platform 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.”

This wasn’t the first time that Regev and Nafar had clashed. Last month, she walked out of the Ophir film award 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 recitation of lines from the Darwish poem “Write it down, I am an Arab.”

In her letter to Mayor Yahav, she specifically objected to Nafar’s "Who's the Terrorist," lyrics of which include: "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."  

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

Regev wrote 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."

Nafar told Haaretz that he was pleased to dispel the rumors of a change in the program, although he said the rumors came the municipality itself.

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.

The festival’s artistic director, Ari Remez, said he was pleased that the municipality had reconsidered its plans to change the schedule and had resisted the political pressures. The protest against Nafar's performance began earlier this week when Likud activists in Haifa announced plans to disrupt the show. 

Two Likud activists who posted the threats on Facebook were questioned by police Monday and were released on condition that they steer clear of the festival, which includes events around the city of Haifa in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and the Ethiopian language Amharic from Tuesday through Thursday.