Like hero Tu­pac, Is­raeli Arab rap­per's mu­sic pro­vokes

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Is­raeli Arab rap­per Tamer Na­far's po­lit­i­cally-charged lyrics have sparked the same kind of con­tro­versy that may have made his hero Tu­pac Shakur proud. Na­far, from the pi­o­neer­ing po­lit­i­cal rap group DAM, has touched a nerve with songs like "Who's the Ter­ror­ist?" skew­er­ing what he and oth­ers say is dis­crim­i­na­tion against Arabs in Is­rael. He has be­come a star among Is­rael's Arab pop­u­la­tion and Pales­tini­ans, but Is­raeli Cul­ture Min­is­ter Miri Regev, a for­mer mil­i­tary cen­sor with a com­bat­ive style, is not a fan. She has sin­gled him out for crit­i­cism, ac­cused him of in­cite­ment and sought to have one of his re­cent per­for­mances can­celled, help­ing make him a tar­get of rightwing pro­test­ers.

Speak­ing to AFP in a re­cent in­ter­view, the 37-year-old, who wears a hoody, baggy pants and sim­ple gold chain, dis­missed her re­marks, say­ing: "Regev is noth­ing but a gov­ern­ment mouth­piece spread­ing racist poi­son." Speak­ing af­ter a con­cert in the Arab-Is­raeli city of Sakhnin at­tended by about 1,000 peo­ple, many of them teenagers, he pledged to con­tinue with his stri­dent lyrics matched with in­fec­tive beats. Regev ac­cuses Na­far of tak­ing it too far, re­port­edly say­ing he "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." She charges that some of his lyrics justify "ter­ror­ism."

'Coun­try of my an­ces­tors'

Arab Is­raelis like Na­far are de­scen­dants of Pales­tini­ans who re­mained af­ter Is­rael was cre­ated in 1948, and they cur­rently make up around 18 per­cent of the coun­try's pop­u­la­tion. They tend to sym­pa­thize with the Pales­tinian cause and Na­far refers to him­self as Pales­tinian. Grow­ing up in the 1990s in Lod, a mixed Is­raeli city south­east of Tel Aviv, Na­far lis­tened to Tu­pac, the provoca­tive Amer­i­can hip-hop star mur­dered in 1996. Na­far said he saw sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the African-Amer­i­can strug­gle for equal­ity and the Is­raeliArab ex­pe­ri­ence. "The im­agery in Shakur's videos was sim­i­lar to our re­al­ity in Lod-how the po­lice were chas­ing them in the streets," he said. "I found out we had some­thing in com­mon. I didn't speak English and I used to search for the lyrics in English, print them and sit in school with a dic­tionary trans­lat­ing them." DAM-an acro­nym for Da Ara­bian MCs but which also means "blood" in He­brew and "last­ing" in Ara­bicper­forms songs that are ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal.

'Go to Gaza, ter­ror­ist!'

In his song "Who's the Ter­ror­ist?" Na­far says: "They call me a ter­ror­ist but I live in the coun­try of my an­ces­tors." In an­other, he rails against so-called honor killings in Arab com­mu­ni­ties. Is­raeli me­dia said Regev, whose spokesman did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, took par­tic­u­lar ob­jec­tion lyrics say­ing: "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."

The con­tro­versy peaked last month when Na­far was to per­form at a gov­ern­ment-funded fes­ti­val in the north­ern Is­raeli port city of Haifa. Regev called on Haifa's mayor to with­draw his in­vi­ta­tion. De­spite the pres­sure, the gig went ahead, although the at­mos­phere was charged with rightwing ac­tivists wrapped in Is­raeli flags blocked by po­lice from ap­proach­ing the stage. Na­far said he was "scared" by dozens of pro­test­ers out­side. "They were yelling 'ter­ror­ist', 'go to Gaza' and 'son of a bitch.'" "It is not nor­mal to go to a con­cert sur­rounded by 15 se­cu­rity guards for my own pro­tec­tion," he added.

"There is Tamer the artist who gets on stage and raps, chal­leng­ing rightwingers and fas­cists, but there is also Tamer the fa­ther and hus­band who loves his wife and chil­dren and wor­ries about him­self and them, and takes fas­cist threats se­ri­ously." He says he has Arab and Jewish friends who helped him through the con­cert. A spokes­woman for the Haifa mu­nic­i­pal­ity said the event re­flected the city's di­verse cul­ture.

'From that ghetto'

Na­far is not the only artist or en­ter­tainer to be tar­geted by Is­rael's cul­ture min­is­ter in re­cent months. Regev, who be­longs to what is seen as Is­rael's most rightwing gov­ern­ment ever, has taken on Is­rael's largely left­wing Jewish cul­tural elite. They have ac­cused her of seek­ing to muz­zle them, in­clud­ing by pro­mot­ing a bill to cut sub­si­dies to cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions deemed not "loyal" to the state. She was booed on ar­rival at a re­cent cul­tural con­fer­ence, and hit back from the podium. "As the fa­mous Chi­nese philoso­pher Sun Tzu once said: 'Cut the bull­shit,'" she said. In Septem­ber, she walked out of a film award cer­e­mony as Na­far and a Jewish per­former read out a poem by Mah­moud Dar­wish, con­sid­ered the Pales­tinian na­tional poet.

"Ev­ery­thing I have done came from the re­al­ity in the streets of Lod, from that ghetto," Na­far said of the part of the city where he grew up. "My job is to doc­u­ment my gen­er­a­tion and I am not ashamed of us­ing some He­brew words in my songs." He re­cently fin­ished a film, "Junc­tion 48," which he co-wrote and starred in un­der di­rec­tion by Is­raeliAmer­i­can Udi Aloni. It tells the story of an Arab-Is­raeli rap­per, his lover and their feel­ings of des­o­la­tion in­side Is­rael. The film was to have been shown ear­lier this month at a youth club in the north­ern city of Karmiel, but the screen­ing was can­celled by the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity. — AFP

Arab-Is­raeli rap­per Tamer Na­far per­forms on-stage.

Au­di­ence mem­bers cheer as Arab-Is­raeli rap­per Tamer Na­far per­forms on-stage.

Arab-Is­raeli rap­per Tamer Na­far poses on-stage for a pic­ture with au­di­ence mem­bers af­ter per­form­ing.

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