Straight talk rap confronts Arab-Jewish racism from both sides

Two men sit in an auto repair shop, at a low table bearing pita, a plate of hummus and a bottle of Coke.

The setting is the stage for Arab rapper Sameh Zakout and Israeli educator Uriya Rosenman as they embark on “Bo Nedaber Dugri,” (Let’s Talk Straight), a six-minute, 28-second rap released Thursday just as Israel and Gaza headed toward an uneasy ceasefire.

Rosenman starts, spewing racist, generalizing accusations at Zakout — as representative of the Arab-Israeli community — for not serving in the army, for harassing Israeli women, for carrying out honor killings, for being a terrible driver, for shooting rifles into the air at weddings, for not paying taxes and building homes illegally.

Zakout responds in a similar way, rapping in Hebrew and Arabic, telling Rosenman that Israelis started out as a melting pot but have become racist, that all Arabs call themselves Palestinian because they are, that the Nakba is his grandmother’s reality, that Israelis don’t want to live next to Arabs but Arab construction crews build their homes, and that Israelis have to stop using the Holocaust as an excuse for their actions.

Rapper Sameh Zakout (left) with educator Uriya Rosenman as they rap straight talk between Arabs and Jews in the video released May 20, 2021 (Courtesy Let’s Talk Dugri)

“I’m not racist, I’m mad,” he concludes. “We both have no other country and this is where the change begins.”

It’s raw, powerful and spot on. It also couldn’t have been better timed, after 11 days of Israel-Gaza conflict that was exacerbated by violence and civil disobedience in Israel’s mixed cities of Lod, Acre, Jaffa, Haifa. Jerusalem and elsewhere.

But the timing was just luck.

Rosenman, 31, an educator by training, began working on the rap three years ago after hearing Joyner Lucas’s rap “I’m Not Racist,” a difficult conversation about race between two men, one Black and one white.

Rosenman embarked on the project not knowing exactly what to say. He began his research by touring around Israel, meeting Jews and Arabs familiar with the extremes on both sides of the spectrum.

Eventually he had some solid lyrics, but lacked the authenticity of a face-to-face confrontation between a Jew and Arab.

About a year ago, Rosenman and Zakout met through friends. Zakout, 37, lives in Ramle and has been a professional rapper for the last 20 years, releasing albums and gaining national attention when he vied for a record deal in the 2012 Israeli reality show, “Chai be La La Land.”

Uriya Rosenman (left) and Samekh Zakout film their video, ‘Let’s Talk Dugri’ about Arab and Jewish disconnect (Courtesy Uriya Rosenman)

The two clicked and began working together, revising and editing the lyrics, and adding more Arabic to Zakout’s part.

The lyrics written by Rosenman were based on thoughts and ideas he had heard from Arab friends in the previous two years. As Rosenman and Zakout worked together, they became friends and their work developed into a discussion of their lives in Israel.

“It was tough,” said Rosenman. “We had debates.”

“This dude comes from the other side but he wrote a lot of deep things that were important to say,” said Zakout. “It was powerful.”

They both feel nothing like this has ever been said before.

“It’s never been in your face like this, without any filters,” said Zakout.

“It’s out of the box and very powerful,” said Rosenman. “I feel like, let’s stop bullshitting.”

While they intended to release the video in March and then April, they got sidetracked by logistics and holidays. They ended up launching the project at the end of two difficult weeks in Israel, as Jews and Arabs tried to figure out what exactly happened in Gaza and in Israel’s mixed cities.

The release of the video is just the start, said Rosenman, who sees the conversation as a marathon and plans on using patience, persistence and determination, along with social media, to see the possibilities for a better future.

“We’re not going for ‘likes’ and ‘views,’” said Rosenman. “We want attention because we speak the honest truth.”

It’s a similar trajectory for Zakout, who hopes his kids or at least his grandkids won’t endure what he has in his life.

“I want people to see me as a person with big dreams,” said Zakout. “Maybe I’m more good-looking, but I’m exactly like you.”

(Jewish side)
Let’s talk straight
‏I don’t get what you Arabs are mad about
‏You want equal rights
‏and to live in our country but you don’t serve in the IDF

‏Haneen Zoabi, Ahmad Tibi (Arab politicians)
‏no wonder we always elect Bibi (PM Netanyahu)
‏You flocked the ballots and got screwed over again
‏believing in co-existence is just being naive

‏So yeah
‏when I hear that (Arab) accent I’m always suspicious
‏Just don’t cry “racism,” stop the whining
‏you identify as a Palestinian so how can we be neighbors??

‏Listen, it’s fucked up
‏Wherever there are Arabs – there are terror attacks
‏and you actually expect to get into night clubs
‏Why don’t you stop harassing our women??

‏I mean, you’re still stuck in the past
‏‘Murder for family honor,’ come on what the fuck??
‏You live in clans, fire rifles at weddings,
‏drive like assholes, abuse your animals,
‏steal cars, beat your own women
‏and then always complaining – when will you start fulfilling your duties?!

‏We seem doomed
‏Even a Bedouin Arab wearing a (IDF) uniform seems suspicious to me
‏Well, how can we talk about unity?
‏For every Arab doctor and pharmacist there’s one that
‏prefers to live separately, so what, just wait for some
‏“Mahmoud” to grab a knife and scream “kill all the Jews!”?!

‏There are no free meals
‏Learn how to speak proper Hebrew, let’s start there
‏Pay taxes and build legally like everyone else
‏forget the Quran already and open up to the world!

‏I’m positive
‏I’m not racist, my gardener is Arab
‏I’m not racist, I buy meat at ‘Hinawi’ and also hookahs
‏from some Arab in Jaffa

‏I just lost hope
‏Hard to imagine the day when we could live in harmony
‏Guess Kahane was right when we he shouted “separation”
‏maybe you are better off in Gaza and the West Bank

‏I’m not racist, I swear
‏but there’s a cultural abyss between us and there’s a reason
‏Judaism is about life, repairing the world and free love
‏and you educate children to hate in the name of Islam, for god’s sake!

‏And all you care about is Allah
‏and Naqba and the jihad and the honor that controls your urges
‏Leaders that preach to fight everyone else
‏A blind public that doesn’t think and just follows like sheep

‏Complain about everything, cry about how bad it is
‏Blame everyone else instead of looking in the mirror
‏Give us some more reasons to be afraid and avoid trying
‏To come closer and live together, seems there’s nothing left to do

‏You’re just ungrateful
‏Forget serving in the IDF, why not do national service instead?
‏How dare you take from the country’s budgets?
‏If you don’t serve the country, I consider you enemies, you Arabs!

‏I’m not racist
‏Just keeping distance that’s all
‏Tzachi [Halevi] married Lucy [Alharish], yeah right, he’s not a leftist
‏A star of “Fauda” and an Arab, that’s just cheap publicity

You’ve proven it’s possible otherwise
‏After all, you’re already in the Knesset and the national soccer team
‏but even there, you don’t really want to share
‏Trojan horse, back stabber, ‘Amalek’ descendants

Mix the stucco, Ahmed! you’ve always been good at that
‏just don’t do an “Arab job”
‏don’t be sloppy
‏If you’re not satisfied there’s always a substitute
‏We’ll replace you with some Sudanese, how’s that??

‏I’m not racist
‏I know there’s another side to the story, I’m not trippin’
‏I’m not racist
‏We share this country, but the hate never stops

‏Wish our reality was different

‏I’m not racist, I swear

(Arab side)

Let’s talk straight
You Jews forgot what it’s like being a minority
You started as a melting pot
But now you’re all about nuclear reactors, apartheid and racism

And enough with the cultural bullshit
Half of your lexicon is Arabic words
“Sababa, Dahka, Yalla, Baasa, Achla Dawwin”
For real homie – you’ll never understand true Arabic

Enough, I am Palestinian and that’s it, so shut up
Even if 2,000 years passed, I’m still here standing strong
Afraid of my language, you ignorant, your time has passed

I don’t support terror, I’m against violence
But 70 years of occupation – of course there will be resistance
When you do a BBQ and celebrate independence
The Nakba is my grandmother’s reality, motherfucker!

You say “A good Arab is a dead Arab”
and then actually complain that I don’t serve
This government makes me a second-class citizen

Nation-State Bill only adds to the mess
The anthem doesn’t represent me nor does the Star of David
Installing streetlights in our neighborhood is a celebration
The country sees me as a terrorist, not a human being

Don’t talk about equal burden, when we have no equality
first thing first – sit down, shut up, and listen,
How will I open a business if I cannot get into a bar?
Mizrahi Jews also eat shit because of the similarity, don’t they?

This is not normal
in 1948 you kicked out my family
the food was still warm when you broke into our homes
occupying and then denying, the truth isn’t easy

you can’t speak Arabic and you know nothing about your neighbor
you don’t want us to live next to you, but we build your homes
You don’t know the accelerated heartbeats every visit at the airport
“Feeling like a VIP,” guards on each side – you have no idea!

And everything you say is bullshit
“You have 22 Arab countries”
“Are you a Christian? You don’t look like one,” I’m sick of this!
I am Sameh from Ramle – I will never forget where I came from!

I’m not racist, I’m mad
I miss my family, haven’t seen them in a long time
Yeah right, “educating to hate in the name of Islam”
20 years you’re committing genocide in Gaza, so much spilled blood!

And all you care about is money and power
and the occupation and ruling as the “chosen people”
You think you’ve been through the Holocaust so everything is allowed
You ruined Jaffa and Acre what will happen tomorrow?!

What are you crying? You’re not those who were deported
You were respected guests at our homes while murdered in Europe
Giving me a passport, you aren’t doing me no favor
even if my home is destroyed, fuck it, I hold my head up high

Enough… I’m standing tall
I’m not one of those Arabs you tame
I have dreams and ambitions, I want to fly high
Hear me out, I’m not transparent, remember my face!

You must admit you’re a racist people
Even the “state of Tel Aviv” and all the other leftists
but at least they try not to see us as different

I’m not racist, but I had enough
Thought I’m in a nightmare and only after waking up I realized
That my life is not worth a penny, I just want to live
And I’m being deprived of the beautiful life I dreamed of

You take care of yourself but you hurt me
You will learn to accept me, I’m an Arab
If we would only open our eyes and hearts, my friend
We’d see there is the same god for the priest, the imam, and the rabbi

I’m not racist
I want to make my son proud for attempting the impossible
I’m not racist
We both have no other country, and this is where the change begins.

End of song subtitles:
Let’s talk straight
We’re fed up with racism, fear and hate
What will our children’s future look like?

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