Singer on 'The Voice' in France under fire for pro-Palestinian stance

#Culture

Mennel Ibtissem's voice won over the jury on the French TV show, but her political positions alienated pro-Israel and Islamophobic groups

Born in Besancon of a Syrian-Turkish father and a Moroccan-Algerian mother, Mennel Ibtissem, 22 years old, is currently doing a master's in English
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Last update: 
Tuesday 6 February 2018 17:43 UTC
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It was her singing voice that first landed Mennel Ibtissem in the news.

On Saturday night, the 22-year-old French graduate student charmed the jury on The Voice, a popular reality TV show and singing competition, with her interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in English and Arabic (Ya ilahi).

On the show which first started in the UK, but has been adapted and launched in several other countries, famous singers sit with their backs to contestants as they audition. If the stars like what they hear, they turn around to show their support.

Less than five seconds into Ibtissem's song, French singer Zazie turned around and exclaimed, "It's impossible!” She was followed by British-Lebanese singer Mika, then singer-songwriter Pascal Obispo and finally by musician and actor Florent Pagny.

"I have never opened my heart to my family by saying: 'Do you know what music does to me?'" Ibtissem said in an interview ahead of her audition.

"I was hiding a lot. I was doing music in my room. When I posted videos on the internet, the messages I got from people were very nice compliments."

But after her performance, Ibtissem has provoked many hostile reactions for opinions she posted on social media and has since removed.

Pro-Israel sites have accused her of being "a member of the Muslim far-right" and "conspiratorialist” after she took stands on Facebook against Israel and questioned the involvement of armed Islamists in the Nice terrorist attacks.

"The government is the real terrorist," she wrote in August 2016.

Islamophobic sites have criticised Ibtissem for sharing posts from BarakaCity, a controversial Islamic non-profit organisation, promoting books by Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan and also for her support of Lallab, a French feminist association that defends Muslim women’s voices.

Born in the eastern French city of Besancon to a Syrian-Turkish father and a Moroccan-Algerian mother, Mennel, a Muslim, clearly shows sympathy for the Palestinian cause. A video clip shows her singing Souris Palestine (Smile Palestine).

And she also told French daily Le Figaro earlier this month that she considers her turban "a more modern way of wearing a veil".

"It is inseparable from my look. You will never see me without it," she said, drawing a parallel with French rapper Maitre Gims who never removes his dark glasses.

This is not the first time that a hijabi-wearing female singer has tried her luck on The Voice: in 2016, psychologist Amina Skhiri participated in the Belgian version of the show with I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.

TF1, the TV channel which airs the show in France, has been clear in previous comments before Mennel's appearance on that show that she was "already known on social media" and did not comment on the uproar after the show.