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Charlotte Church denies ‘River to the Sea’ song sang during pro-Palestine concert is antisemitic

Charlotte Church has denied the song “From the River to the Sea” is antisemitic after she belted out a rendition at a pro-Palestine concert.

The Welsh musician was recorded singing the divisive song, which can be interpreted as a direct call for the state of Israel to be destroyed, during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert at a village hall in Caerphilly, South Wales on Saturday.

In a video posted online, Church, 38, stands behind a banner that reads “Let Palestine Live” at the fundraising event for the Middle East Children’s Alliance charity. She and the choir members wore keffiyeh scarves, which are often worn by pro-Palestine supporters as a symbol of solidarity.

 (Instagram)
(Instagram)

At the event, Church was seen singing the divisive lyrics “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a reference to the land between the Jordan River, which borders eastern Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has labelled the song and its central phrase as “antisemitic”, as many British Jews recognise the song as demonstrating a demand for Israel’s destruction.

However, Palestinian activists say the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a call for peace and equality after 75 years of Israeli statehood and decades-long, open-ended Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians.

Broadcasting live on Instagram on Monday, Church denied that the song was antisemitic and that people “who know the history” behind the conflict will know it is “not calling for the obliteration of Israel”.

She said: “Just to clarify my intentions there, I am in no way antisemitic. I am fighting for the liberation of all people. I have a deep heart for all religions and all difference.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful event. But unfortunately the powers that be can’t have that. [They] can’t have such a powerful symbol of resistance as what we worked towards on Saturday.”

Charlotte Church leading the choir (Instagram)
Charlotte Church leading the choir (Instagram)

She added: “Clearly, if you know the history of it all, [it is] not an antisemitic chant calling for the obliteration of Israel. It is not that in any way shape or form. It is calling for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.”

Church said “lots of other beautiful songs… of liberation and freedom” were performed at the event, South African songs from the anti-apartheid movement, Welsh songs and Arabic songs “the lyrics of which were adapted to the situation in Palestine”.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism told The Independent that Church was using her “voice to fan the flames of hatred”.

“At best Charlotte Church has been tone deaf, but at worst she is using the voice for which she is so well known to fan the flames of hatred.”

It labelled the lyrics as “extremist”, and added: “You cannot stoop lower than using your stardom to teach kids to sing extremist lyrics in a village hall.

Jewish MP Andrew Percy blasted the incident as “deeply concerning”, saying all who joined in Church’s sing-along “should hang their heads in shame”.

The Independent has contacted Church’s representatives for comment.

Church was the main guest at ‘The Big Sing’ fundraising event for the Middle East Children’s Alliance charity (Instagram)
Church was the main guest at ‘The Big Sing’ fundraising event for the Middle East Children’s Alliance charity (Instagram)

A spokesperson for the CAA continued: “The genocidal chant ‘From the River to the Sea’ refers to the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, and only makes sense as a call for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state – and its replacement with a Palestinian state. It is a call for the annihilation of half the world’s Jews, who live in Israel.

“Since 7 October, when Hamas committed their barbaric terrorist acts, we have heard this chant on the streets of Britain during anti-Israel marches, accompanied by all manner of anti-Jewish racism,” it said.

But like so much of the Middle East conflict, the phrase’s meaning depends on who is telling the story, and what audience is hearing it.

In 2021, the Palestinian-American writer Yousef Munayyer said the phrase expresses a desire for a state in which “Palestinians can live in their homeland as free and equal citizens, neither dominated by others nor dominating them.

“The claim that the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ carries a genocidal intent relies not on the historical record, but rather on racism and Islamophobia,” he wrote for Jewish Currents in 2021.

Using the phrase can be costly for public figures and politicians, such as the Labour MP Andy McDonald, who was suspended from the party after referring to the slogan at a protest in London organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“We won’t rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis & Palestinians, between the river & the sea can live in peaceful liberty,” he tweeted.

He then explained: “These words should not be construed in any other way than they were intended, namely as a heartfelt plea for an end to killings in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank, and for all peoples in the region to live in freedom without the threat of violence.”

At the time, Downing Street expressed concerns over the chant, describing it as “deeply offensive” to many, amid growing controversy surrounding the rhetoric used in recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In the US, Representative Rashida Tlaib was censured by the House in November after referring to the slogan.

Defending her stance, Tlaib wrote: “From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate. My work and advocacy is always centred in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity.”