Coronavirus, election fever, and Matti Caspi’s exit stage left – opinion

It came as only a minor surprise when prominent Israeli singer-song writer Matti Caspi announced this week that he had packed his bags and taken his family to Italy.

 Matti Caspi in a concert at the Zappa club in Tel Aviv (photo credit: GILAD AVIDAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Matti Caspi in a concert at the Zappa club in Tel Aviv
The combination of coronavirus malaise and election fever has disgruntled American and Israeli notables threatening to emigrate if their leaders are not replaced.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the start of serious campaigning in the United States, with President Donald Trump working to secure a second term in office and the Democrats attempting to field a candidate who could topple him.
During the past several months – prior to and since August, when the Democratic National Convention nominated Joe Biden to run against the incumbent – celebrities have been voicing their intention to make a grand exit out of the country in the event of a Trump victory.
American actress/activist Jane Fonda has been more optimistic of late about staying put. Her position is that the virus was “God’s gift to the Left,” and she may be right. The US economy was booming before COVID-19 struck and lockdowns were imposed to keep it at bay. The rise in morbidity and death rates, coupled with the drop in employment, became the manna from heaven that Trump-haters had been seeking.
The same perversity applies to Israel, where the movement to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been throwing caution and saliva droplets to the wind and gathering in droves – masks and bandanas beneath their chins – to demand that he resign or be sent to jail, whichever comes first. What they don’t want is another set of democratic elections that could keep him at the helm.
A key group of the above protesters is made up of performing artists. The better-known and wealthier ones take to podiums in city squares to bemoan the poverty that has befallen their stagehands and sound engineers due to the closure of theaters and concert halls. The less affluent complain that they’ve had no recourse but to earn a pittance stacking shelves at the supermarket.
These icons of stage and screen blame Netanyahu for demolishing their industry. Unlike their American counterparts, who have been joining the ranks of the Black Lives Matter movement to cancel American culture, history and exceptionalism – as they produce YouTube videos of themselves in their mansions baking bread and spouting the “We’re all in this together” mantra – Israeli entertainers vehemently oppose closures and curfews.
In an interesting twist, American conservatives view coronavirus restrictions to be an infringement on their freedom and a violation of their constitutional rights, while Israelis of the same political persuasion tend to consider mask-wearing a civic duty. The reason for this dichotomy is that Trump has been pushing to open up the economy and Netanyahu prefers the opposite approach.
Buoyed by Biden’s poll numbers, Democrat celebrities have been whining a bit less about leaving after November 3. But even if their high hopes are dashed next week, it’s doubtful that more of them will make good on their vow than did the first time that Trump took the White House – which is to say none.
This is mainly because there is nowhere for them to go in the world that is better than where they are, other than maybe in their well-staffed summer or winter villas abroad.
It came as only a minor surprise, then, when prominent Israeli singer-song writer Matti Caspi announced this week that he had packed his bags and taken his family to Italy, where he reportedly owns a pied-à-terre.
Addressing his “dear audience” in a slightly melodramatic Facebook post on Sunday, Caspi wrote, “In light of the dismal situation that the Israeli government has created for its citizens and its culture, my family and I have chosen to disengage for the sake of our mental health.”
He continued, “I took a break from all the chaos, in the hope that the situation will revert to its prior normalcy, and that routine will resume as it used to be in days gone by.”
IT IS NOT clear what “prior normalcy” he had in mind, since neither he nor any other Israeli ever described the Jewish state in this way. What is evident from his words, though, is that he holds the Netanyahu-led government responsible for the crisis wrought by a microbe – one that is stumping politicians and health officials around the globe, who nevertheless feign certainty and argue about how to contain it before a vaccine becomes available.
To be fair, Caspi wasn’t really referring to the spread of infection. He was pointing to the pandemonium caused by an untenable coalition. Indeed, the groundbreaking US-brokered Abraham Accords and Sudan deal were more easily reached than any agreement among cabinet ministers and Knesset members.
He also must have been alluding to the overall heavy atmosphere, characterized by discord and disillusionment. Never mind that much of it is owed to his fellow leftists, whose constant hate-filled chants near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and through the boulevards of Tel Aviv are drowning out the cheers of “normal” Israelis uplifted by the sudden advent of Mideast peace. You know, thanks to Netanyahu – and, of course, Trump.
“I hope that the struggle we all share will bear fruit and enable [me to] return to the stage [to perform again] and be close to you,” Caspi concluded, stating that his stint in the Diaspora is temporary, ostensibly until things settle down to his satisfaction. Translated from the Hebrew, this basically means that he’s waiting for Netanyahu to fall.
Herein lies the tragic, or comic, irony. If Caspi is trying to escape COVID-19 woes and socio-political strife, he sure picked a funny location for it.
According to Italian-Israeli author and journalist Fiamma Nirenstein – a former member of the Italian Parliament and vice president of its Foreign Affairs Committee – Italy is in dire straits.
“With all the love I have for Matti Caspi as a musician, I doubt he will find the solace he’s seeking,” Nirenstein, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told me. “COVID-19 is out of control again. There are violent demonstrations in the streets against the government’s handling of the current surge of the virus, with increasingly stringent measures to prevent its spread. And police are storming the demonstration-filled squares with tear gas.”
Where the governing coalition in Rome is concerned, things are not any brighter, she said.
“Italy has a government today that can be defined as populist,” she explained. “It was formed by two parties – Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five-Star Movement) and Partito Democratico (the Democratic Party). The former is virulently anti-Israel and includes in its ranks the most incredibly ignorant and culturally backward ministers in Italy’s history. The latter hitched a ride on them in order to return to be part of the government.”
Perhaps Caspi, like American stars fantasizing of greener pastures when the politicians they oppose are in power, cannot appreciate the place that elevated him to idol status. Or maybe he is able to “disengage” in a foreign land precisely because outside of Israel he has no skin in the game.
Checking out may be one method of ameliorating “mental health.” But let no celeb in Israel or America forget that the ability to employ such a remedy is a function of privilege. Average citizens don’t have the luxury, particularly in the midst of a health crisis that’s robbing them of their livelihood.
Furthermore, Israeli performers always have their hearts set on New York and Los Angeles, no matter how they feel about their own prime minister or the American president.
Trump and Netanyahu, despite their very different attitudes toward the coronavirus, have much in common. Both have achieved great successes; each is battling for his political future; and neither ever had the support of the celebrities who boast about their willingness to abandon ship if it veers in a rightward direction.
Regardless of the outcome, the effect of which is cause for great concern in Israel, Tuesday’s US election will involve high drama. What it will not cause – even if Trump wins – is a mass exodus out of Hollywood to, say, Italy.