JEDDAH: Right-wing extremists in Israel are trying to block the renaming of a street in honor of the late Egyptian music legend Umm Kulthum.
Authorities in Haifa — Israel’s third largest city, about 10 percent of whose 300,000 residents are Arab — want to draw attention to its diversity.
City councillor Raja Zaatreh said honoring Umm Kulthum was an appropriate way of recognizing the “presence and roots” of Israel’s Arab community, which regularly faces discrimination. Haifa was “a model of coexistence between Arabs and Jews,” council leader Einat Kalisch-Rotem said.
But opponents of the honor, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s notoriously divisive son Yair, are determined to block it. He said the proposal was “shameful and crazy.”
Right-wing Likud party Knesset member Ariel Kallner said he was saddened by Haifa’s decision to honor a woman “who called for the destruction of the Jewish state.”
Commentator Eldad Beck attacked the plan “to commemorate one of the biggest and most influential enemies of Israel, who wanted to annihilate the state.”
Umm Kulthum, who died aged 76 in 1975, performed in Haifa in the 1930s. She was hugely popular in the Middle East and worldwide — among her fans were Bob Dylan and Beyonce — and not least in Israel itself.
Israeli musician Ariel Cohen said many Jews with Arab roots “grew up with Umm Kulthum,” and one of her most famous songs, Enta Omri, was translated into Hebrew.
Cohen said it was true that Umm Kulthum sang patriotic songs during conflicts between Egypt and Israel in the 1960s and 1970s, but, “it is natural for singers to sing patriotic songs in times of war.”
He added: “Umm Kulthum is not an enemy.”