My Word: Singing Israel’s praises

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.

Netanyahu at Eretz Nehedert filming 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Netanyahu at Eretz Nehedert filming 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
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 officers.
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 one.
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).
The sight 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 1.
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 indeed.
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 cream.
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).
At the 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 agreement.”
It was, strangely, almost the same message he managed to convey on Eretz Nehederet.
The next day, it was business as usual.
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 remain.
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 face.
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 Statistics.
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 norm.
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.
I’m aware 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 school halls.
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 editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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