There was a point on the country’s 65th Independence Day when I thought
everybody – Israel’s friends and Israel’s foes alike – must be smiling, if not
laughing out loud. Actually, there were two such moments.
The first came
during the traditional Yom Ha’atzmaut events at the President’s Residence in
Jerusalem on April 16 when Shimon Peres hosted 120 outstanding soldiers and
Apart from anything else, each of these valued members of the
IDF deserves a medal for keeping a straight face as the country’s leaders
participated in a very public singalong, under the title “Singing Independence
with the President” – an only-in-Israel experience if ever there was
The sound of Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense
Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz
struggling in turn to perform their favorite Hebrew songs, even with
professional singers to help them along, was not pleasant. None of them should
give up their day jobs (or more accurately their 24/7 jobs).
and sound of a far-from-harmonious Netanyahu tempted me to hit the “off” button
on my TV, where the performance was being broadcast live on Channel
Who knows what button the Iranian regime was itching to touch? If this
was not music to my ears it must be far worse for our enemies – a reminder that
no matter what they do, we’re still here and singing. A peculiar people
The second point in the Independence Day celebrations when I
smiled and thought that the joke’s on those who hate us was during the broadcast
of a special Yom Ha’atzmaut broadcast of the satire show Eretz Nehederet (“A
Wonderful Country”) in which Netanyahu starred opposite himself – or at least
his impersonator Mariano Idelman – and almost had host Eyal Kitzis licked with
jokes about the premier’s now well-known weakness for pistachio-flavored ice
The show’s success is such that US President Barack Obama
acknowledged it during his keynote address in Jerusalem last month during his
official visit, quipping: “I want to clear something up just so you know – any
drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create
material for Eretz Nehederet.”
Although there was clearly little
ad-libbing in either Obama’s speech or Netanyahu’s television appearance, “his
friend Bibi” cracked enough funny jokes to keep Channel 2’s audience (and Keshet
station shareholders) happy. At the same time, it probably set on edge the teeth
of Netanyahu’s enemies (both political opponents at home and real enemies
abroad). For them, this must have been worse than his singing; especially in
places where political satire is banned.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite
forget a study I read years ago that concluded that the worse the country’s
situation is, the better its satire programs.
For all is not well – not
here, and not in the world.
When they weren’t singing off-key, each of
the top brass addressed life-and-death issues including the Iranian threat
(which Ya’alon believes we might be forced to tackle on our own); the spillover
from the Syrian civil war (or the end of 40 years of quiet on the Golan, as
Gantz put it); and the chance of peace (Peres’s perennial dream).
annual reception for the country’s diplomatic corps, Netanyahu expressed
condolences to the American people on the Boston Marathon attack, a scenario
with which Israelis are all too familiar.
Netanyahu told the diplomats:
“We are committed to our aspiration for peace, a peace that will be based on the
principle of two states for two peoples, a Jewish state alongside a
demilitarized Palestinian state.
But in order for the peace to last it
must be anchored in security. The State of Israel must be able to defend itself
by itself; its security will be a main component of any future peace
It was, strangely, almost the same message he managed to
convey on Eretz Nehederet.
The next day, it was business as
Two missiles, apparently fired by Salafist jihadists from Sinai,
hit the Eilat area. They mercifully caused no injuries (though never
underestimate the true suffering of victims of shock). They didn’t even lower
the country’s morale, but they were another reminder, unwanted, that the dangers
For a moment, I was reminded of South Korean PSY’s ridiculously
successful “Gangnam Style” hit, which caused much of the free world to sing,
dance and parody itself last year, although now North Korea in its humorless way
again threatens global security.
ONE OF the difficulties I frequently
face as an editor is the question of balance. Often the “balancing act” involves
the juxtaposition of the country’s military side and its civilian
Like the unusual nature of the back-toback Remembrance Day and
Independence Day, some of the dilemmas are very Israeli.
In a world
where, no matter what threats exist, political correctness seems to rule, we are
the odd man out – or the odd eight million, according to the latest population
census, published in time for the holiday by the Central Bureau of
We are a proud nation-state actively seeking to preserve our
unique nature as The Jewish State in an era when it’s only fashionable to
display ethnic differences within a multicultural context.
We are also
forced to remain a country in which military service is considered the
Recently, looking at potential junior high schools for my son I was
struck by the way that all the open evenings we attended mentioned the high
percentage of students who went on to serve in elite units, including top combat
units. It is a matter of pride, hard to explain to people who grow up and live
in countries where missiles don’t regularly fall, terror attacks are stunningly
exceptional, and wars are fought on foreign shores, if at all.
that many “outsiders” see Israelis in uniform and fail to see what we see –
brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Human
beings – each with dreams (and a large amount of laundry that needs to be washed
and dried during weekend leaves).
On Independence Day we might open
ourselves to ridicule with our sing-alongs and propensity to spray foam at each
other and in general let our communal hair down. But the previous day we not
only stood still for the two-minute siren, a tribute to the fallen soldiers and
victims of terror, we also sang their praises.
Probably Israel alone has
an entire genre of depressing songs used only during memorial ceremonies, wars
and times of disaster.
One of the most noteworthy commemorative projects
is chillingly titled “Od me’at nahafoch leshir” – “In a little while we’ll turn
into a song.” It involves some of the most popular entertainers performing works
written by fallen soldiers. It is both a tribute and a poignant reminder of the
scope of the loss.
This year, some 3,000 attended the Knesset ceremony
where the poems and songs of the dead rang out, and all around the country
similar touching performances were held in town squares, community centers and
And yet the next day, there we were laughing at our leaders
– and at ourselves – and singing a very different tune. That’s why the
Independence Day sing-along by the top brass, while excruciating in musical
terms, nonetheless managed to hit the right note.The writer is the
The International Jerusalem Post.email@example.com