My Word: Songs with and without praise
We need not sing as one voice, but Army Radio has a duty to fight back when its own listeners come under fire.
Izhar Ashdot Photo: Noa Cafri / Wikimedia
Army Radio was the site of a much-discussed battle last week – no physical
wounds were evident, although there might have been some bruised egos, and a
disc was scratched, at least from the playlist.
The fight concerned the
song Inyan Shel Hergel (“A matter of habit”), the title track from the latest
album by popular singer Izhar Ashdot. In an unusual act, station commander Yaron
Deckel nixed the number as “debasing soldiers,” while the singer was preparing
for a live performance at the Army Radio (Galei Zahal) studios.
protest song, written by Ashdot’s wife Alona Kimchi, is apparently based on
testimonies gathered by the Breaking the Silence group from IDF veterans who
served in the Palestinian territories. The lyrics portray an image of
soldiers learning how to kill and becoming numb to suffering (along with the
hope for eventual peace).
Among the verses that drew particular fire were
the lines: “They’re not a man, not a woman, they’re just an object, just a
shadow. To learn to kill is a matter of habit.”
The ban might have
silenced the song on Galei Zahal airwaves, but it helped it shoot to fame
elsewhere, in the social media, talk shows and the press.
Ashdot and Kimchi became Public Enemy No. 1, accused of providing an anthem and
extra ammunition to all Israel’s many existing enemies; for others, the couple
were the heroes in a struggle in which the words “freedom of expression”
ricocheted in all directions.
Deckel, who himself served at Galatz (as
the station is known) before a long career as a political correspondent and
influential morning show presenter on Israel Radio, maintained radio silence but
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu, also a former Galatz head, gave several
interviews in which he pointed out that Army Radio, by its very nature, has to
defend itself from attacks on serving soldiers and for calls against military
There are limits to everything – including
chutzpah. Ashdot might have considered adjusting his sights before
expecting to receive a warm welcome at a station whose whole raison d’etre is,
ostensibly, for the benefit of the armed forces, and whose funding, of course,
comes from the Defense Ministry budget.
In a statement that was quickly
picked up by the Hebrew press, the radio station announced that “...the
station commander decided that there is no room on Army Radio to publicly
celebrate a song that denigrates and denounces those that have sacrificed their lives for the defense of the country.”
Ashdot, incidentally, did his
military service as a music programming editor at the station, not so much
dodging bullets as selecting hits of the musical kind. During his service he met
the future members of the band Tislam in which he was a lead singer. Their hits,
including “Radio hazak” (“Loud radio”), kept a generation of soldiers, students
and young-at-heart adults rocking in the 1980s.
Ashdot blasted Deckel’s
statement, saying: “The release of the statement and the announcement that it
represents the position of Army Radio negates the possibility of holding a fair
and balanced discussion on the song and its contents. I am worried by the fact
that in a democratic country a media outlet bans a song.”
Geffen backed Ashdot in a piece in mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot, writing:
“Iranization doesn’t happen in a day, it starts with a song and it’s likely to
end with us.”
Geffen raised a storm in his youth avoiding army service
ostensibly on medical grounds, and one of his songs from the It’s Cloudy Now
album, 20 years ago, was partially censored and frequently censured for his yell
“We are a f***ed-up generation.”
Later, Geffen gained a more mainstream
image and in 1996, following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, he recorded
what became known as the Israeli version of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” “Let’s Walk
for the Dream” (Shir Tikva), a poetic, propeace ballad.
readily come to mind at the moment partly because the world (“All together now”)
is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles, the group that became a
legend. The Fab Four provided the musical backdrop to my childhood in London in
much the same way that Ashdot and Tislam’s sound was in the background at the
end of my army service and during my university studies.
Lennon was not
resting in peace last week. A study by Co-op Funeralcare, which flashed around
the world so fast it’s hard to determine which news organization first broke the
story, found that his signature song is banned from the majority of funeral
parlors in Britain because the lyrics include “imagine there’s no
A spokeswoman for the funeral company was quoted as saying:
“Hymns were once the mainstay of a funeral service – but pop music plays such an
important part in people’s lives that it now acts as the theme tune to their
HYMNS IN Hebrew and other languages were the mainstay of a
musical tribute to murdered Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl at an
event I attended on October 13. The memorial was hosted by the Journalists
Association of Jerusalem and featured the Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv,
conducted by Eli Gefen, who volunteered the performance as a personal gesture of
faith in harmony and humanity. It was one of several events held around the
world to remember the man who, early in 2002, died for being a journalist, an
American, and not least, for being a Jew.
Pearl’s death, of course,
cannot be separated from events of 9/11 – the day the world changed. Unlike the
collapse of the World Trade Center, I don’t remember the exact moment I heard of
his brutal murder, but I do recall a few days later as I was bathing my son
wondering how such evil could exist in the world. I was not new to terrorism: It
was the height of the second intifada; I knew friends and colleagues who had
buried their children – bludgeoned, shot, or blown to pieces – even while I
cradled my pregnant stomach somehow hoping it would keep my baby safe. But
Pearl’s last moments, even though I’d never met him, chilled me with a new
horror – the way the terrorists not only beheaded him but filmed the act, seemed
to be a new level of bestiality.
Following his murder, his family and
friends established the Daniel Pearl Foundation “to carry on his legacy, using
music and words to address the root causes of the hatred that took his life.”
Pearl never got to know his son and personally pass on his ability to create
bridges through music.
Music can bring people together like nothing else
(think Beatles at the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympics); terror can tear
the world apart (spare a thought for the Israeli athletes who did not get the
minute of silence they deserved at the Olympic ceremony – and draw the dots
between their deaths, and those of Pearl and the victims of 9/11).
Radio has the right to choose what it wants to play on its airwaves (how many
songs don’t get heard at all?), although the affair undoubtedly could have been
handled with more sensitivity. Combat soldiers have enough to contend
with without songs that cleverly condense the thoughts of some into a damning
The ban is not music to my ears, but the battle against the
delegitimization of the country and its defense forces is also an important one.
We need not sing as one voice, but Army Radio has a duty to fight back when its
own listeners come under fire.
The writer is editor of The International
Jerusalem Post. email@example.com