We can’t work it out: why Israel’s Arab pop idol isn’t coming to Britain

Claims of death threats and accusations of lies surround rift that put paid to Eurovision star’s visit.

By Mark Hughes

Monday, 12 April 2010

When she became the first Arab to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest last year, it was inevitable that Mira Awad would stir controversy. Her duet with a Jewish singer was held up by many as a symbol of hope between the rival communities embroiled in the Middle Eastern conflict.

But her selection was angrily opposed by extremist Arabs and Jews who demanded, unsuccessfully, that she withdraw.

Now Ms Awad has found herself once again involved in a political tug of war – this time involving death threats, accusations of lies, and a controversial concert in London.

It began on Friday when it was reported Ms Awad had been forced to pull out of a London concert celebrating Israeli independence after receiving death threats. The claims were made in a press release by the Zionist Federation, the group organising the concert at which Ms Awad was due to perform with her Jewish Eurovision partner Achinoam Nini, known as Noa. Ironically, the duo’s first-ever collaboration was a cover of the Beatles classic, “We Can Work It Out”.

The release said that while Noa would still perform, Ms Awad would not participate “due to death threats made against her and her family”. The story was picked up by the media, including the Jewish Chronicle and Israeli radio. Given the strength of feeling surrounding her previous performances under the Israeli banner, it seemed entirely plausible – until Ms Awad herself said it was not true. Ms Awad – who unlike most Arab-Israelis is Christian rather than Muslim – later posted a message on her Facebook page denying that her reason for pulling out of the concert had anything to do with death threats.

Rather, she said, she considered the commemoration of Israeli Independence Day an inappropriate occasion on which to perform, because of her mixed heritage. Israeli Independence Day celebrates the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. But Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories commemorate 1948 as the year of the Nakba – literally “catastrophe” – because of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who were forced to leave their homes in what is now Israel.

Ms Awad’s message, published in the Jerusalem Post, read: “Today, on Israeli radio, they said that due to threats on my life I cancelled a show in London I was supposed to appear in. I think it’s time to tell the whole story: My manager Ofer Pesenzon was approached with a request for a concert of Noa in London, with me as a special guest. Ofer agreed, thinking it would be a good opportunity for me to expose my music, and more importantly, spread the more-than-ever relevant message that Noa and I try to convey. Later on, the date of the show was set for Israel’s Independence Day.

“The minute I heard about this concert, I asked Ofer to cancel my participation, out of consideration for the complexity of this date for me.”

But Ms Awad’s comments appear at odds with those of her manager, Mr Pesenzon. Explaining his client’s removal from the London line-up, he told Israeli Army Radio: “Mira is in an impossible position. I’ve received phone calls from Jews saying there’s no way an Arab should be performing for Israel’s Independence Day, and Arabs have called saying the same.”

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