Meretz MK Esawi Frej is not happy with one of the Israeli singers who is slated to perform at the UN later this month in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The delegation of three performers – Miri Mesika, David D’or and Amir Benayoun – was invited by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon to take the stage on January 29 with the original song “The Last Survivor” in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
The trio has already recorded a version of the song together, and released a video on Sunday featuring them singing amid photos of Holocaust survivors.
But Frej does not believe Benayoun – who co-wrote the song with political strategist Moshe Klughaft – should be allowed to take part.
“I do not know what the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations was thinking about inviting Benayoun, a singer who has long been exploiting his talent and public sales to spread hatred and racism,” Frej wrote in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this week. The Meretz MK then gave examples of Benayoun’s past songs which have drawn criticism for their lyrics.
Frej spoke about the issue on Monday in front of the Knesset plenum, and read some of the lyrics from Benayoun’s song “Ahmed, Lover of Israel.” That song, which talks about a Palestinian carrying out a terrorist attack, was the reason that President Reuven Rivlin canceled a scheduled performance by Benayoun at the President’s Residence in 2014.
“Freedom of expression is the lifeblood of democracy, but I believe that it is not right for the United Nations to host a singer who is racist not only in his statements but also in his poems,” Frej added in the letter. “International Holocaust Day is meant to mark the struggle against the worst consequences of racism. Today, it must be completely free from racism and racists such as Benayoun.”
In response, Benayoun said he had no intention of not attending the event.
“I will fly there even though it’s a place I don’t like and I will say what I have to say in Hebrew and Arabic, and my partners in English,” the singer said in an interview with Channel 20 this week.
Benayoun said the song was originally written in 2014 and performed with a Knesset delegation at Auschwitz. Later, when they were invited to the UN, they decided to create the song in three languages.
Benayoun said this version of the song will be a tool to fight against antisemitism around the world.
“It is our job to take the torch and illuminate it with all its might,” said Benayoun. “And I’ll tell you something, it is not just that honored gentleman [Frej] who is trying to make my trip to the UN difficult, but also others. But I will go anyway.”
Guterres did not issue an official response to the letter.