Israeli Arab Rapper Disinvited From Campus Event: 'We Don't Want Friction'

Official reason given was shift in focus to 'local artists,' but student union representative told Tamer Nafar's manager she didn't want 'unpleasant friction' ■ Nafar: Move is part of war against Palestinian narrative

Rapper Tamer Nafar performing in 2016.
Ilan Assayag

The student union at an academic college in northern Israel canceled on Thursday a performance by Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar, who was set to appear next Wednesday at an event for students on campus.

The official reason given for the cancellation by the student union of Tel-Hai Academic College was that it was decided to change the concept of the “Carnival on Campus” event.

However, a representative of the student union told Nafar’s manager on Tuesday that she did not want “unpleasant friction” in light of political statements made by the rapper, who defines himself as Palestinian, in past performances.

In an audio-recorded WhatsApp exchange, Nafar's manager asked the student union representative what he should tell people who ask why the concert was canceled. She told him to say that the organization had decided to use a different, local concept. However, another band slated to perform at the event, Lucille Crew, is not from the north either and was not canceled.

Two days before the cancellation, the student representative told Nafar’s manager in a WhatsApp message that “she just wanted to be certain that there simply won’t be anything political in the performance.”

The representative said she hoped Nafar “would simply come and perform his music.” She also said in a different message that she was very excited he was coming but “we do not want to create unpleasantness.”

Nafar said after the cancellation that the request for him to avoid the use of his political views in his concert “shows that something very bad is seeping into the student union. No one can separate the artist in him from the political man he is.”

The student union, Nafar said, wanted to silence his voice as “part of the overall war against the Palestinian narrative.”

Attorney Sawsan Zaher of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said the union's move discriminated against Arab students because "they are denied the right to be exposed to art and shows that are compatible with their views." She said the decision reflected an internalization of a "dangerous message" and was a result of a "particularly racist and radical wave of legislation" that includes the "cultural loyalty" bill.

In 2016, after Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev walked out of the Ophir film awards ceremony because Nafar and a Jewish performer, Yossi Tsabari, read a part of a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish on stage, the Haifa Municipality considered canceling or shortening a concert by the rapper at a community theater festival.

Regev asked that Nafar be removed from the program, citing lyrics from one of the rapper’s songs as legitimizing acts of terrorism.

“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,” Regev said at the time.

The city later decided to let the rapper perform as originally planned

Shimon Axelrod, the chairman of the student union at Tel-Hai College, said the union had planned an “active break that would be social and multicultural with the goal of creating an event that would connect between all the religions and nationalities at the college. After we examined a number of possibilities, we decided to focus on local artists from the Arab community so we chose a band from Majdal Shams."

"During the entire school year, the union and Tel-Hai College promote widespread multicultural activity,” said Axelrod.