Hosting Rita at UN, Israel sends message to Iran

Israeli-Iranian singer performs at the UN General Assembly Hall, calls for closer cultural ties between Israel and Iran.

Ron Prosor with Rita at the UN 370 (photo credit: MICHAEL WILNER)
Ron Prosor with Rita at the UN 370
(photo credit: MICHAEL WILNER)
UNITED NATIONS – Israel and Iran may not have much to agree upon these days, but if anyone can bring the two countries together, it’s Rita.
The Israeli singing star performed in the UN General Assembly Hall on Tuesday night, in an exceptionally rare event.
Joining the Iranian-born singer, whose full name is Rita Yahan-Farouz, were Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor and UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon, who called for closer cultural ties between the peoples of the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic.
Rita sang in Persian, Hebrew and English to the packed hall during an event that sent a very intentional message from Israel to Iran that its strategic enemy is a nation rich in culture and in search of peace, Prosor told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s saying, through music, that we have nothing against your people,” Prosor said. “And while you play the drums of war, we’re playing songs of love and peace. That’s a different message, and I’m sure that to people in Iran who listen to this, this will make a difference.”
Rita’s family was among tens of thousands of Jews who fled Iran during and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Rita told the Post that performing in the very forum where Israel’s statehood was debated gave her an extraordinary feeling of satisfaction, despite the fact that her father – a school teacher in Tehran before he moved his family to Israel when she was eight – died a week ago.
It was a concert he didn’t want to miss, she said.
“The people there – the real people there in Iran, not the government – they want to live normal lives. They are like us.
They are the same,” Rita told the Post. “So we have to remember that, and remind them of that.”
She hopes that Iranian television outlets will air portions of the performance.
The 50-year-old singer’s latest album, My Joy, consisted of traditional songs sung in Persian, and besides turning gold in Israel, became an underground hit on pirate radio station in Muslim countries including Lebanon and... Iran.
“I believe that if we, the people, will try to reach each other, something will happen,” she said. “We are really the same.”
Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations hosted the event, titled Tunes for Peace, which was sponsored by the New York and Los Angeles chapters of the Iranian American Jewish Federation and the UJA-Federation of New York.
Rita’s performance was the third-ever full concert in the UN General Assembly Hall.
Mark Eliyahu, one of nine members of Rita’s band, is also of Persian descent and studied in Azerbaijan before making his way to Israel. The concert opened with an interlude featuring Eliyahu playing the kamanche, a Persian bowed string instrument.
“To play on that stage is to play in front of such colorful people, with such big hearts,” Eliyahu said. “This is where people care.”
Ban attended with his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, and Prosor noted that he and the President of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic were dancing in their seats as Rita performed old hits as well as songs from her newest album.
“The United Nations is usually united against Israel. And here this evening, the United Nations united behind Israel, under Rita’s wings,” Prosor said, alluding to her hit song “Admit Me Under Your Wing.”
“She really, through her music, transcends borders and continents, and through her singing reaches the hearts and minds of people. And there could not be a stronger message,” he said.