Tunisian singer canceled in her own country after performing in ‘Palestine’

Emel Mathlouthi said she was unjustifiably smeared for “normalization” activity although she sang for Palestinian audiences only in PA-administered cities and eastern Jerusalem.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Tunisian singer was cancelled in her own country Wednesday after performing in Israel – for all-Arab audiences, AFP reported Thursday.

Emel Mathlouthi, known mostly by her first name alone, was due to go onstage at the Hammamet International Festival in Tunisia next week. Instead, she posted to her Instagram account, “To my dear fans in Tunisia, I am very sorry to announce our much awaited concert in Hammamet has been cancelled with no official reason. We believe that our latest tour in beautiful Palestine has sparked an unjustified controversy accusing me of normalization.”

The singer-songwriter and producer had just returned from a string of shows in Bethlehem and Ramallah, which are under full Palestinian Authority (PA) control, and eastern Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.

She had been invited by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, whose director told AFP that the performer “deserves praise, not condemnation, for what she has done” in taking part in the festival it had organized.

Emel told the French news agency that she had been the subject of a “major misinformation campaign, because “these performances were organized by Palestinians for Palestinian audiences.”  She stressed in her statement that her concerts “do not contradict the guiding principles” of the BDS movement, but that her critics “believe that going to Palestine anywhere is normalization.”

“Long live Palestine and its beautiful people,” she added. “I was deeply touched by their warmth, generosity and incredible resilience. This was the most beautiful week of my life.”

According to London-based Al Araby News, what set off the boycott was Emel’s “intention to hold a party in the city of Haifa, inside a hall owned by a Palestinian, before later retracting it.”

Haaretz reported Tuesday that she had intended to perform in an Arab bar called Fattoush in the northern coastal city before a BDS campaign called on “Tunisians and Arabs and all Palestine supporters around the world” to boycott all her shows and music because the venue was in Israel.

Emel also mentioned in her Instagram post that she is a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, through both her songs and statements. This was backed by Jewish human rights organization Bezalmo, whose head, Shai Glick, unsuccessfully tried to get her Jerusalem show canceled by writing to ministers, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, that she was “a BDS supporter and inciter” against Israel.

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The 41-year-old rose to fame with her protest song “Kelmti Horra” (My Word is Free), which became an anthem for the Tunisian Revolution that began at the end of 2010, and the Arab Spring that followed, when Arab citizens revolted against several authoritarian regimes.