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Soviet Immigrant Musicians Barred from Jerusalem Open-air Festival

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Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz is under fire for barring the appearance of a dozen former Soviet immigrant performers at an open air festival in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening because their pop music would offend members of the strictly Orthodox haredi community.

Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz denounced Peretz’s censorship as “discrimination” that had “no parallel in the civilized world.”

Shulamit Aloni, leader of the new left-wing Meretz bloc, called the minister a “primitive.” New immigrants, joined by native Israelis, demonstrated against the absorption minister, who is haredi. One of their signs read: “No jobs, no homes and now no culture.”

Peretz, who stands to score points with his religious constituents in the upcoming Knesset elections, defended his decision. He said that inasmuch as the street festival was open to the public, he was concerned that haredim and other Orthodox Jews attending should not be exposed to rock music, jazz and women singers.

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the banned performance included selections from the George Gershwin operetta “Porgy and Bess,” and Russian and Israeli folk songs sung by a male baritone. A medley of Gypsy tunes performed by a female singer was also on the program.

At the urging of Aloni, the immigrant artists were brought to a nearby theater, where a capacity audience gave them rousing cheers.

They were also invited to participate in the prestigious Israel Festival next week. Festival Director Yossi Telgan said the invitations were his way of protesting the minister’s decision, which has triggered a storm of controversy.

The haredim argued that they are entitled to concessions at public events because their religous way of life limits their choice of entertainment while secular Israelis have a limitless choice.

They attended the open-air festival in unusually large numbers after Peretz announced the ban.

Political observers said that whatever the minister’s original motives, the episode gave him useful pre-election exposure.

Peretz, who holds a Knesset seat as an independent, says his plans are uncertain. He insists he will run for re-election on June 23 but will not return to the haredi Shas party, which he quit two years ago.

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