Tunisian artist kicks off a storm after duet with Israeli singer

The song sparked a controversy in Tunisia amid calls for action against the Tunisian singer.
Tuesday 29/12/2020
Tunisian singer Nooman Chaari (left) performs song with Israeli singer Ziv Yehezkel. (Facebook)
Tunisian singer Nooman Chaari (left) performs song with Israeli singer Ziv Yehezkel. (Facebook)

TUNIS – Tunisian singer Nooman Chaari caused a stir in Tunisia after releasing a video clip of his latest song titled “Peace between Neighbours”, which he performed jointly with an Israeli singer.

The song went viral online and social media platforms were abuzz with reactions. Tunisian activists accused Chaari of “cultural normalisation” with Israel through this duet. According to the Times of Israel, the project was coordinated with the Arab Council for Regional Integration, a body tasked with defending and encouraging Arab-Israeli dialogue in the region.

The video clip featured scenes from the Palestinian territories and some Arab countries, and the song called for reconciliation between Arabs and their Israeli neighbours.

The song was featured on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Arabic-speaking Facebook page “Israel Speaks Arabic”, which introduced the song performed by Tunisian singer Nooman Chaari and Israeli singer Ziv Yehezkel, with the caption “Music is a bridge between cultures and peoples.”

The Arab Council for Regional Integration stated on its Facebook page that the song was written by a very distinguished Yemeni poet who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons.

There were many calls for punitive actions to be taken against the Tunisian singer and composer, who is the leader of a band that participates in a TV show broadcast on a state television channel in Tunisia. Other activists have called for a reaction from the Tunisian Musicians Syndicate.

Under the eye-catching title of “Normalisation in exchange for money, Israeli money sweeps the Tunisian artistic field,” Blogger Moez Haj Mansour posted on his Facebook page, “Tunisian Nooman Chaari, who claims to be a musician, composer, distributor and singer of religious songs declares normalisation with Israel… This is the first Israeli-Tunisian-Yemeni artistic cooperation with the support of the Arab Council for Regional Cooperation which financed by the Zionist Dennis Ross and receives huge funds from the UAE and Israel ..Nooman Chaari had visited ‘Israel’ several times and gave concerts in exchange for huge sums of money.”

In his statements to the local radio station Mosaique FM, Chaari denied that the mission of the Arab Council for Regional Integration was to call for normalisation with Israel. Rather, its mission; he said, is to spread peace and tolerance between religions. He also denied receiving money for this song.

Chaari acknowledged that he had previously travelled to Tel Aviv to give a concert there, and added, “Art has neither religion nor nationality, nor is it against or with normalisation … and normalisation in its political aspect does not concern me, and the artist believes that interation with people must be based on their humanity and not on their religion or other affiliations.”

“What I took into consideration was the fact that the (Israeli) artist was of Iraqi origin, regardless of his religion or nationality,” Chaari added.

Besides his critics, Chaari had also several outspoken supporters among Tunisian artists. They explicitly expressed their support for the artist and denounced the smear campaigns against him.

“I support my friend and my colleague, composer Mooman Chaari, and I denounce this smear campaign against him for his artistic project and his dealing with an Iraqi artist of Jewish origin,” said Tunisian perfomer Chamseddine Bacha.

“Art and music are the language of the world, and the musical scale is read in the same way everywhere,” he added.

Normalisation with Israel was the subject of great controversy on social media and reflected a state of confusion among the Tunisian political elite, especially after The New York Times announced that Tunisia was next with Oman among Arab countries expected to conclude a peace agreement with Israel, similar to the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The Tunisian foreign ministry said December 22 that Tunis was not interested in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and that its position will not be affected by any international changes. The powerful trade unions have also taken a stand against any normalisation moves.

Normalisation with Israel is a divisive issue in Tunisia. Some no longer hide their support of normalisation and are enthusiastic about the steps already taken by the Arab countries who signed agreements with Israel. The great majority of Tunisians, however, remain opposed to it.