Don’t Fence Me In – Global Jewish Forum III

June 11, 2012 by

One Comment

Thinking towards the Global Jewish Forum on Liberalism and Zionism.

One song and two clips has got me thinking.

Here Ella Fitzgerald sings Don’t Fence Me In. It’s a jaunty declarative and celebratory song, loving the open spaces, remembering the pioneering days of being able to walk freely in one’s own land. On the one hand it extols freedom, and on the other hand it extols sovereignty – the ability, right, and power to do as one wishes on a huge swathe of land.

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David Byrne’s cover of the same song comes along with its own video clip and its own take on liberal values. In the Talking Heads’ version, the song is enriched with music of the world. There are African drums, South American drums, a bit of Irish, a clip of Roy Rogers, and a bit of bluegrass. The song has been globalised.

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And the video clip shows no land whatsoever. “Don’t Fence Me In” is now metaphorical, no longer literal. The video calls us to move beyond our differences, ethnic and cultural. Don’t fence me in to one particular identity: I wish to be free to be a cosmopolitan free spirit.

If once freedom was connected in the public consciousness with physical connection to a specific place, it is now disconnected from a particular land, nationality, and culture. It is connected to all.

I wonder if these two different interpretations of the song introduce us to one of the presenting tensions today between Liberalism and Zionism?

Is Zionism too particular, too specific, too physical? Who, after all, can think about Israel without fences?

And/or is liberalism as imagined by the David Byrne video too ephemeral, too amorphous, not connected to the real world of context?

Happy to read your thoughts…

One Comment

  1. Daniel Goldman says:

    Instead of looking at Zionism vs Liberalism I would be focussing Jewish vs Democratic.
    The simple reason for this is I do no not see that a) the most relevant debate covering wider society here is Liberal vs Zionist, and b) The balance between Jewish and Democratic covers most of the underlying dialectics in current Israeli society (religious, social, even economic).

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