Why was a Palestinian song removed from Spotify?

Mohammed Assaf’s Ana Dammi Falastini is back on the streaming giant. Why was it taken down in the first place?

Palestinian Arab Idol Mohammed Assaf performs during the 13th Mawazine (rhythms of the world) music festival in Rabat on May 30, 2014 [Youssef Boudlal/Reuters]

The online uproar from fans and activists about the removal of Mohammed Assaf’s 2015 track My Blood is Palestinian from streaming giants Spotify and Apple Music seems to have quietened down, leaving many wondering what happened.

Mohammad Assaf, a 33-year-old Gazan Palestinian pop singer who shot to stardom after winning the second season of Arab Idol in 2013, is outspoken against the Israeli occupation of his homeland and usually performs wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh as a symbol of his resistance.

My Blood is Palestinian surged in popularity amid the 2021 Palestinian protests against Israeli crackdowns in the village of Sheikh Jarrah as its dabke-appropriate beat resonated with Palestinian culture.

What happened?

As the disappearance of the Palestinian song caused a furore, Spotify and Assaf had conflicting narratives.

According to an interview on Sunday with Al Araby Al Jadeed, Assaf said he received an email from Spotify telling him his song had been removed from the digital music and podcast platform for “inciting against Israel”.

But Spotify said they did not make the decision, rather that it came at the distributor’s request.

“We are not against publishing the song,” a Spotify representative told Al Jazeera.

“We support Mohamed Assaf and have published a list of his songs that are still available on our official platform,” they added.

In the interview with Al Araby Al Jadeed, Assaf says that he “was surprised that the song … was deleted,” which, according to music writer Danny Hajjar, “is entirely plausible, he’s not responsible for that deal.”

Hajjar published a Twitter thread, saying: “Dammi Falastini – and the album – disappeared from Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon, and Deezer (aka digital service providers or DSPs) simultaneously. Typically when this happens, there’s an issue with the distribution agreement to have songs hosted on streaming platforms.”

The owner of Assaf’s label, Saudi Arabian MBC’s Platinum Records, did not respond to inquiries by Al Jazeera.

What may have spurred speculation that the decision was politically charged was the popularity of a petition calling for the removal of anti-Israel content on Spotify, organised by Zionist advocacy group We Believe in Israel (WBII). The WBII petition received close to 4,000 signatures.

Assaf’s song was believed to have been included in the sweep due to its celebration of Palestinian identity.

Palestinian voices are frequently subject to aggressive censorship, and to many human rights activists and fans, the removal of the nationalistic song appeared as the latest development of that trend.

Source: Al Jazeera