A Matter of Habit

October 18, 2012 by

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Izhar Ashdot is an Israeli rock legend, a founding member of Tislam, the most successful Israeli band of all time, and a solo performer in his own right. He has long been a left-wing activist and often performs at Meretz (left-wing social democratic political party) rallies.

Generally an adored musician, Ashdot has found himself in the center of a controversy that is rocking Israeli society in a different way than he is used to. This week the Director of Galatz גל”צ, one of the two nationwide radio stations operated by the IDF, ruled that Ashdot’s latest song עניין של הרגל “A Matter of Habit” could not be performed or played on the station.

While Galatz is an army radio station run by the Ministry of Defense, this has not stopped it being a voice of free expression and a lynchpin in the cultural development of the State of Israel. For Galatz to censor or ban a song is almost unheard of. And banning an Izhar Ashdot song… unthinkable.

I had already heard rumors on the blogosphere as to the problematic nature of the song including a couple of open letters from would-be politicians/minor celebrities questioning Ashdot’s thinking; but until Galatz banned the song I hadn’t taken the time to listen to it.

With a fellow Israeli in my office I pulled the song up on YouTube and we watched the official music video.

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There is no doubt this is a painful song which sets its sights on Israeli society and in particular the Army for creating a culture of fear and hatred which make killing “a matter of habit”. This exaggerated and one-sided criticism tempers a deeper message in the song, as Ashdot really seems to be saying that we have backed ourselves into a corner, convinced ourselves that it is us against the World and placed our existential threats on a pedestal that has become identity defining.

Ashdot claimed in an interview that, “A song becomes political when it is treated in that way.” But some might argue that a song becomes political when it contains the line, “Patrolling all night in the Kasbah of Shechem. Hey what here is ours and what is yours?”

We have a habit in Israel of making valid points in such strong words, sometimes even extremist, that the original message is lost. (As an aside, in America I have found the exact opposite: valid points made in such weak, consensual language that I can no longer identify the original message.) Peace Now is against Settling the West Bank, a legitimate opinion, yet they often portray Settlers as the enemy and use overly painful terms in describing their opponents.

Likud often questions the validity of biased human rights organizations run by Israelis who are funded by foreign governments, again a legitimate opinion, but by framing these organizations as traitors, the argument loses its own validity. Ashdot has fallen in this trap.

He ends the song with the words, “To learn how to love, is a matter of delicacy”, and it’s a shame that he hasn’t heeded his own advice. For, with all the delicacy of a hammer Ashdot has saddened and angered mainstream Israel with an apparent attack on the most beloved institution (the IDF), when he could have artistically side-stepped naming names and had a deeper effect. We can’t really blame him, it’s all a matter of habit.

The writer is Makom’s Community Shaliach and Israel Engager in Greater Washington

Social Engineering

January 30, 2012 by

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Israel is a society which solves its problems piecemeal, blinkered to the broader implications of our actions.

We continually appease sectors of our overly partisan population by lighting small fires which we naively believe will harmlessly smolder on a low flame. We then forget about these fires and only wake up to them when they are raging, out of control, and then we raise our eyes to the skies and ask “how could this happen?” To Full Post

The Washington Connection

December 28, 2011 by

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It rarely happens that American Jews are more aware of developments in Israel than Israelis.

Yet when the projected ten thousand Israelis marched in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday night, opposing Haredi extremist actions, they were actually following in the footsteps of our own Federation. For the past 15 years, The Jewish Federation has partnered the Greater Washington community with that of Mateh Yehuda – Beit Shemesh in Israel. To Full Post

How Obama Taught Me To Love American Jewry – Blog

December 20, 2011 by

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OK, so I’ll admit it, Obama’s speech at the URJ biennial on Friday blew my mind.

If you haven’t seen in it, see it. If you haven’t seen it and you’re not American, see it twice.

Half-an-hour of effortless, seamless rhetoric tying together Jewish, human and American narratives in a beautiful figure-eight loop, that doesn’t seem to be coming untied anytime soon. To Full Post

Ad Wars

December 7, 2011 by

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Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest post in the Atlantic has caused a mini-storm in Diaspora-Israel relations.

Goldberg picked up on an advertising campaign which the Israeli Ministry of Absorption is spearheading in the States, calling on Israelis living in America to return to Israel; and he called it “a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews.”

The effects of this blog were felt immediately, with American Jews voicing outrage at these adverts and a multitude of informal complaints lodged by high-ranking officials with the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

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Complex lessons from the Altalena

July 25, 2011 by

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A few weeks ago we marked the 63rd anniversary of the sinking of the Altalena . A complicated event, which culminated in the newly formed IDF receiving a direct order from Ben-Gurion to open fire on a ship of armaments arriving from Europe and into the hands of the supposedly disbanded Etzel (the revisionist Irgun fighters)

In Israel at her most incestuous, Moshe Dayan opened fire on the ship carrying Menahem Begin at Kfar Vitkin… Dayan would, thirty years later, be the loyal Foreign Minister to Begin in the role of Prime Minister.

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No Representation without Taxation

June 24, 2011 by

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The recently passed Boycott Bill has inspired shockwaves that are reverberating across the Jewish world.

Inside Israel there are many questions that have been raised. Here is another example of a private member’s bill (not government initiated) flying under the radar until it’s too late. A healthy parliamentary democracy is usually typified by a very small number of private members bills (Canada only passed 200 in one hundred years). In Israel, there are over a thousand tabled a year, making it almost impossible for the Knesset and its committees to understand what they are actually voting on.

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Boycotting Whisky?

June 15, 2011 by

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Before we begin, I need to divulge my divested interests. I love Scotch. I only drink Whiskey on Shabbat; and on Shabbat I only drink Whiskey.

The whiskey table at shul is as important to me as much of the service that whets your appetite for it. And my wife knows that she can invite anyone, and we can accept any invitation, as long as whiskey is on the guest list. I should also add that I am a snob, I won’t drink blends, Bourbon is a poor replacement, only single malt will do. Luckily I am in good company as it seems that Jews around the world, who hold down steady successful careers during the week, also think that one day a week it’s a good idea to start drinking spirits at 11 in the morning.

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Celebrating Israeli Justice

January 6, 2011 by

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It gets a bit tiring to be critical the whole time doesn’t it? You know, cynically snapping at every tidbit which falls under the table. And I could have a field day this week. But I don’t want to. Not this week. Let’s find something warm and comfortable that we love about Israel and snuggle up with some hot cocoa.

I don’t want to talk about Bibi’s formal request for Jonathan Pollard’s freedom – we’re only going to get upset. I’d bring up loyalty questions, you’d feel uncomfortable. You’d bring up ‘why does Israel need to spy on her best friend?’, and I’d feel uncomfortable. It really wouldn’t end nicely.

And I don’t want to bring to your attention the ongoing surveys which show that Israeli society is more racist than we previously thought. Or the demonstrations in Bat-Yam against Jewish women dating Arab men. It’s just unpleasant. The demonstrations that is… Jewish women dating Arab men is just fictional. Why can’t it be more like the 1970s, when we were embarrassed mainly by Israeli fashion-sense?

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What you see from here, you can’t see from there

November 15, 2010 by

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I woke up after my long-haul flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv feeling blurred and jaded. It might have been the paradigm shift of suddenly finding myself back in Israel; the shock of realizing that my house and family are now based in America; or just the prescription strength sleeping tablets my father-in-law had given me. I think it is a sign of the quality of our relationship that I am prepared to swallow drugs he offers me, without even looking at the box.

And I was regretting this as I climbed into the driving seat of the rented car, set Galatz and 88FM as my presets, and launched onto Route 1. And suddenly I got my perspective back: there was a student demonstration against over-funding for Haredi yeshiva students; a general strike on the cards; and Ofer Eini (head of the Histadrut Labor Union) called Ehud Barak an Ahabal (fool in Arabic). Israel in HD. Doesn’t get better than that. And it made me remember the wonderful Hebrew adage – What you see from here you can’t see from there. It’s a famous excuse from Israeli politicians when they don’t fulfill election promises, yet there is a lot of truth to it.

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