Israel’s ‘Different’ Eurovision Winner Has a Message for Jerusalem Too: David Horovitz, Times of Israel, May 13, 2018— This was always going to be a tumultuous week for Israel, with our capital in the eye of the storm.

To Understand Israel, Listen to its Pop Music: Matti Friedman, Globe & Mail, May 11, 2018 — An article about Israel on the occasion of the country’s 70th birthday seems to demand some or all of the following words: Trump, war, Iran, Gaza, Netanyahu, Palestinians, Syria, Jerusalem.

What Critics Left and Right Get Wrong About ‘Fauda’: Josef Joffe, Tablet, June 11, 2018— If a Jew sympathetic to Israel and a pro-Palestinian critic writing for the Guardian both dislike the Netflix hit Fauda, now in its second season, it can’t be all bad.

What are the Most Important Finds of Israeli Archaeology?: Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel, April 19, 2018— November 29, 1947. Even as the United Nations voted to end British Mandatory rule and establish two states — Jewish and Arab — in Palestine, the founder of Jewish archaeology in the Land of Israel held in his hands one of the greatest historical treasures of all time: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

On Topic Links

Why is This Israeli Drama Such a Hit with Palestinians? Because it Tells the Truth: James Delingpole, Spectator, June 9, 2018

The Art Awakening that’s Transforming Jaffa: Rebecca Stadlen Amir, Israel21c, May 21, 2018

Holy Streets, Ink and Israeli Art: Hagay Hacohen, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2018

A Jew, an Early Christian and a Roman Meet in Archaeological Park to Be Built on Evacuated Prison: Ruth Schuster, Ha’aretz, Mar 09, 2018




David Horovitz

Times of Israel, May 13, 2018


This was always going to be a tumultuous week for Israel, with our capital in the eye of the storm. Jerusalem Day on Sunday — when celebrations of Israel’s reunification of the city in the 1967 war often spill over into violence between Jew and Arab in a capital that, in reality, is far from united.

US embassy inauguration day on Monday — with President Donald Trump coming through on his promise to formalize his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the embassy from Tel Aviv… “Nakba” Day on Tuesday — the annual Palestinian commemoration of what they regard as the “catastrophe” caused by the establishment of Israel 70 years ago. Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers are encouraging Gazans to march on the border fence and break through in their masses en route to the “liberation of Palestine.”…

As it turned out, however, the drama kicked off even earlier than expected, on Saturday night, when Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest with a demonstrably irresistible song at least partly highlighting female empowerment amid its chicken noises. Overwhelmed by her victory but still retaining her composure, Barzilai in her moments of triumph proved an admirable Israeli icon, praising her country, showing generosity to her defeated rivals, and hailing the contest and its voters for embracing the difference and diversity she champions. “Thank you so much for choosing difference,” she enthused to the watching world (an estimated 200 million people). “Thank you so much for accepting differences between us. Thank you for celebrating diversity. Thank you. I love my country. Next time in Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly, the backlash was not long in coming. Anti-Israel activists, notably from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, are vowing to utilize the fact that Jerusalem will now host next year’s contest to mount a major campaign highlighting ostensible Israeli “apartheid” policies regarding the Palestinians. (The charge does not withstand serious scrutiny: For all the complexity and argument surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bottom line is that Israel does not claim sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, and its key caveat over partnering the Palestinians to statehood is the eminently reasonable demand that their state not come at the expense of ours.)

But Barzilai’s victory already constituted a stinging defeat for the BDS campaigners, who had urged Eurovision participants to boycott Israel’s entry by giving it zero points. In the event, the juries from the participating nations elevated Israel to an impressive third place, and it was then the viewers’ votes in those 43 countries that lifted Barzilai into top spot — a win by genuine public acclaim.

Eurovision nerds spend hours analyzing the politics behind the votes, and there was certainly national self-interest at play in some of the scoring, but the vast margin of Israel’s victory — with 529 points, compared to runner-up Cyprus’s 436 — underlined that this was a genuine phenomenon, a song and an artist that captured the imagination, and whose supporters would not be deterred. (The contest’s official video of Barzilai’s performance had almost five million YouTube views in its first 12 hours.)

Indeed, the singer and her theme showcase a very different Israel from the widespread international mis-perception of the country as primarily a combat zone — albeit a democratic, feisty, innovative one. But we are not without our flaws, and if next year’s contest is indeed hosted in Jerusalem, it could usefully highlight the imperative for tolerance in a city where religious pluralism is a battlefield issue, advertisements featuring women can be banned from buses and are routinely defaced, and where 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death at the Pride Parade three years ago.

Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem who rapidly hailed Barzilai’s victory and promised to put on a great Eurovision next year, won’t actually be running the city by then. He’s stepping down ahead of the October municipal elections, and aiming for national office. One has to hope that the differences and diversities hailed by Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest winner will be firmly protected under the next mayor, when the contest won by the admirable Netta Barzilai comes to our endlessly tumultuous capital in 2019.



TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL, LISTEN TO ITS POP MUSIC                                                    

Matti Friedman

Globe & Mail, May 11, 2018

An article about Israel on the occasion of the country’s 70th birthday seems to demand some or all of the following words: Trump, war, Iran, Gaza, Netanyahu, Palestinians, Syria, Jerusalem. But Israel isn’t a geopolitical problem – it’s a country, and the tendency to limit discussion of this country to those terms renders invisible much of what makes it interesting. What I find most remarkable, having lived here for the past 23 years, is Israel’s bewildering and fast-moving society, the complexities of which are usually overlooked by observers. The question of what “Israeli” means in 2018, and how that’s changing and why, are particularly important ones at this anniversary. One good way to answer is to listen to pop music.

A telling cultural moment occurred at the official anniversary gala, a glitzy musical extravaganza televised from Jerusalem on April 18 (the date of Independence Day on the Hebrew calendar). The opening number was, predictably, a Hebrew classic, From the Songs of my Beloved Land, with lyrics by Leah Goldberg, a revered poet who features on our 100-shekel banknote. The song describes her “homeland, a land of beauty and poverty,” a place with “seven spring days every year, and cold and rain all the rest.” Goldberg came to Israel from Lithuania, and the words describe her old homeland, not this one; Israel has many problems, but cold and rain aren’t among them. The song is an expression of Israel’s founding generation, orphaned children of eastern Europe. That was the song’s spirit when it became a mainstream hit in 1970 as performed by the singer Hava Alberstein, who’d come to Israel as a child from Poland.

But the singer in a shiny white gown who belted out a cover for a national TV audience was Sarit Hadad, one of Israel’s biggest pop stars and the queen of a genre called “Mizrahi,” or “eastern.” In the hands of Ms. Hadad, who has the style and vocal power of the great divas of the Arab world, and with the addition of instruments such as the oud, the poet’s words were transformed into a song of the Middle East.

Ms. Hadad’s reinterpretation of Beloved Land drew more attention here than you might expect, because it was understood to be more significant than just a song. Israel tends to think of itself as a Western country, and still explains itself with stories about Europe: the dreams of the Vienna visionary Theodor Herzl, the socialist communes of the kibbutz movement, the Holocaust. But the country was founded in the Middle East, not in Europe, and about half of the Jews in Israel have roots not in Europe but in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa, in cities including Baghdad, Aleppo, and Casablanca. People from those Jewish communities – known these days by the generalization “Mizrahi” – were uprooted by Muslim majorities in the mid-20th century amid rising nationalism and a backlash against Israel’s creation. Most ended up in Israel, turning the country into a more Middle Eastern place than its European Zionist founders had imagined.

The division between Jews from Europe and from the Islamic world remains one of Israel’s most painful fault lines, and it has played out in pop music. For many years, the Mizrahi sound was scorned by the curators of Israeli culture and kept on the margins. In record stores, you’d have a section for “Israeli” music, meaning mostly music by artists of European ancestry and orientation, and a separate section for “Mizrahi” or “Mediterranean” music, even though this music, too, was in Hebrew and produced in Israel. There was a time when you could barely get Mizrahi music played on the radio, and anyone who wanted to keep up with the latest hits had to go to a cluster of scruffy cassette shops around the Tel Aviv bus station. That reality was an expression of the broader disenfranchisement of Israelis from the Islamic world, who were rarely spotted in the academy or in the corridors of power.

Recent years have seen a reversal. Mizrahi music is now the country’s leading pop genre. When the daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot published a list of the most-played songs of the year in 2017, the paper’s political reporter Amihai Attali remarked on Twitter that all 15 of the artists were Mizrahi: “Anthropologically, it’s an incredible statistic,” he wrote. These days, it’s Mizrahi performers who fill the biggest venues. Stalwarts of the old music scene line up for collaborations with stars such as Ms. Hadad, which would have been unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago.

The Israeli army’s official 70th anniversary song (yes, there is such a thing), released in early March and sung by a military entertainment troupe, is also a cover of an Israeli classic, Don’t Worry, a comic number popular after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In the song, a soldier at the front writes to reassure his girlfriend that he has plenty of time to rest “between bombardment and barrage,” and asks her to send fresh underwear. The original is very much a product of the style and sentiment of the young Israel. But the new cover makes it a product of the present by adding a reggae beat and a Mizrahi twist, featuring two up-and-coming Mizrahi singers doing their mandatory army service, and adding warbling Mideastern-style vocals.

Not everyone loves this development, or what it signifies. Asked last month for his opinion of a different Mizrahi cover by Ms. Hadad, this one of a 1974 hit by the beloved Israeli rock band Kaveret, band member Efraim Shamir called the new version “a musical ISIS” – that is, a particularly Middle Eastern kind of desecration. He was echoing an infamous comment from Tommy Lapid, a late politician and Cabinet minister born in Yugoslavia : Asked for his take on a Mizrahi song, Mr. Lapid joked, naming a Palestinian city, that “we didn’t conquer Tulkarm, Tulkarm conquered us.”

The contentious politician responsible for this year’s anniversary celebrations – and for Ms. Hadad’s cover – is the Culture Minister, Miri Regev, a combative voice known for railing against the old cultural elites. Ms. Regev, who is of Moroccan descent, belongs to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, whose political base has traditionally been heavy on Israelis with roots in the Islamic world. Ms. Regev regularly stokes nationalist sentiment and is reviled on the left; the liberal daily Haaretz has called her “Trump in high heels.”

Ms. Regev has said publicly that Arabic music “has something to offer Israeli culture,” and, in her post at the Culture Ministry, has made it her business to push the Middle Eastern sound to center stage. Last year’s Independence Day celebration starred Nasreen Qadri, a popular performer in the Mizrahi genre who is Arab – something that didn’t seem to happen under culture ministers from the left, who might have wanted a peace agreement with the Arab world but didn’t think much of Arab culture, or of the Israeli Jews who share that culture. It’s a useful lesson for anyone who believes that Israel’s politics can be easily understood or categorized.

The rise of the Middle Eastern sound, impossible to ignore on this anniversary, shows how the margins here have moved to the centre. Ms. Hadad’s new Mizrahi cover of a classic about rainy Europe was akin to the planting of a flag, a way of saying, This country is mine, and so is this song. For years, some observers feared that Israel would tear along the ethnic fault line between Jews from the Islamic world and those from Europe, that the country’s constituent parts were simply too different from each other, and the effort to make them one people – Israelis – would fail. Despite regular tremors and jolts, that hasn’t happened. This society and its 70-year-old identity have proven strong enough, and flexible enough, to change and remain whole.




Josef Joffe

Tablet, June 11, 2018


If a Jew sympathetic to Israel and a pro-Palestinian critic writing for the Guardian both dislike the Netflix hit Fauda, now in its second season, it can’t be all bad. In fact, it is a series that like Homeland and Breaking Bad has cracked the mold and pushed the genre into uncharted TV territory.

Which binge watcher could have predicted the bizarre success of a shoot-‘em-up where they speak only Hebrew and Arabic, with tiny subtitles in English? Made with a modest budget by U.S. standards, Fauda (Arabic for “chaos”) does without Hollywood’s bag of shticks. There are no romantic vistas like Breaking Bad’s New Mexico skies–morning, day and starry night. Just the dusty roads of the West Bank and the treacherous warrens of Nablus. Why plunge into the nightmare of Middle East politics where, no matter how gingerly you tread, you are bound to offend one or the other side?

Writing in Tablet, Simon Israel Feuerman, pooh-poohs Fauda for showing the wrong kind of Jews. These are neither the “gentle, learned scholars“ his mother taught him to revere, nor the ”new Zionist heroes negating the old nebbishy Jewish stereotypes.“ Fauda’s main character, Doron, a member of an IDF hit team operating in the West Bank, is merely a “curious new form of the Jew as shlemiel.” He is a confused, angry dude who should be in therapy instead of roaming the Kasbah of Nablus with a Glock in his waistband. Doron’s wife cheats on him with a colleague, and he takes up with Shirin, a proud Palestinian princess right out of A Thousand and One Nights, but with an M.D. degree and a perfect command of French. Blindly obsessive in his quest to take down the Hamas or ISIS bad guy du jour, Doron keeps violating his commander’s orders, botching the team’s missions and leaving a trail of mayhem behind. Feuerman calls him a “shmendrik,” a bungler and boob.

Yet Doron, like so many flawed heroes, is anything but a shmuck, to add yet another sh-word. Hounded by demons, he just has to kill the abominable Hamas top operative Abu Ahmad, aka “The Panther,” in the first season. In the second, he goes after the self-appointed ISIS leader, al-Makdasi. An aside: The murderous Makdasi (Firas Nassar) makes a better heart-throb with his moist eyes and seductive smile than Omar Sharif in his glory days. To do what he has to do–to avenge his father, who has been decapitated by Makdasi on camera, Doron lies, betrays, and tortures. Meanwhile, his buddies, only slightly less adrenaline-driven, regularly go mano-a-mano with one another, fired up by jealousy or rivalry. The only balanced person in the anti-terror group is a woman, Nurit. A taciturn pro, she kills out of necessity, not fear or fury.

Shlemiels and shmendriks are victims, predestined losers. They don’t set elaborate traps, nor do they threaten their captives with immolation to make them talk. This is the West Bank, not a shtetl in the Pale where Jews had no choice but to cower before the Cossacks. These “shlemiels” are in fact third-generation Zionists who fight like their forefathers did–except with drones and data bases, not with home-made Sten machine guns.

Writing in the Guardian, Rachel Shabi, an Israel-born critic of Israel, gets it wrong, too–or “right” if you believe in the moral obtuseness of the Israelis and the justice of the Palestinian cause. Yes, the series makes an effort at evenhandedness, Shabi concedes. But it is still “overwhelmingly narrated from an Israeli viewpoint.” The “Israeli occupation is nowhere to be seen–there is no wall, no settlers, no house demolitions [and] none of the everyday brutalities of life under occupation.” This is a generic critique that affirms the author’s political bona fides. Yet to castigate Fauda for ignoring the occupation, which is actually the backdrop for every episode, is like faulting Richard III for failing to condemn the squalor and misery of 15th century England. These were indeed nasty times. But Shakespeare wanted to make a different point. Richard is about treachery, murder and unbounded ambition–about universal human traits.

For Fauda, the occupation is a given, hence not the core of the story. What distinguishes the series from a run of the mill tale of Good & Evil, is its ambivalence and its ever-changing perspective as the narrative switches back and forth between Israelis and Palestinians. That is its claim to originality and excellence…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Amanda Borschel-Dan

Times of Israel, April 19, 2018


November 29, 1947. Even as the United Nations voted to end British Mandatory rule and establish two states — Jewish and Arab — in Palestine, the founder of Jewish archaeology in the Land of Israel held in his hands one of the greatest historical treasures of all time: the Dead Sea Scrolls. In his journal that evening, Prof. Eleazar Sukenik wrote, “Today I have been shown a piece of a scroll. I do not dare to write down what I think of it.”

The next day, Jewish settlements throughout the land were attacked, but the Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor knew that, before the window of opportunity closed, he must travel to Bethlehem and purchase whatever fragments he could. Quickly, Sukenik sought safe passage advice from his son, an underground Jewish defense officer named Yigael Yadin (later a general, then a politician, who eventually followed in his father’s archaeological footprints). According to the transcript of a 1950s lecture, Yadin told his father, “As a military man, I answered that he ought not to make the journey; as an archaeologist that he ought to go; as his son — that my opinion had to be reserved.”

Sukenik retrieved the other scrolls and fragments held by a Bethlehem antiquities dealer. After careful study, he held a press conference to share his initial findings in the Jewish Agency building in the middle of war-torn Jerusalem. A lengthy 1955 New Yorker article paints a picture of daily shelling of New Jerusalem neighborhoods, “between three and five every afternoon” — exactly the time and location of the press event. “To attend it required some nerve. An American correspondent fainted in the street on the way, and had to be carried in by his colleagues. The reporters were flabbergasted when Sukenik, who seemed quite unperturbed by the flashing and banging about him, announced the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls,” writes journalist Edmund Wilson. As Sukenik described his discovery, “a shell burst. The reporters had at first been rather peevish at having been asked to risk their skins for old manuscripts, but they ended by being impressed by the scholar’s overmastering enthusiasm.”

Today, the Dead Sea Scrolls are widely heralded as the archaeological find of the 20th century. In parallel to the field of Israeli archaeology itself, entire scientific methods of study and technological innovations advancing their preservation have developed since the scrolls’ dramatic discoveries. Whereas scholars once sat, cigarettes drooping between their lips, touching the ancient scraps with their bare hands (and often seeing them disintegrate between their fingers), today the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory has a decidedly space-age feel. And little wonder: headed by Pnina Shor, the immaculate unit uses high-tech imaging techniques that stem directly from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Though the jewel in the crown of Israeli archaeology, the Dead Sea Scrolls are just one piece of an ancient puzzle researchers are deciphering as they revisit the past to paint a clearer picture of those who walked the land well before the founding of the Jewish state. Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, The Times of Israel asked leading archaeologists what they view as the most important finds or developments in the field of Israeli archaeology — and why.

When not excavating near Jerusalem’s Old City, Dr. Eilat Mazar sits in the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology at the Mount Scopus campus. A beautiful stone building, it’s almost a family estate. The groundbreaking researcher is the granddaughter of pioneering Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, a former president of the university, who led what is arguably the most significant excavation of a biblical site in Israel: his 1968-78 dig in the areas abutting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links

Why is This Israeli Drama Such a Hit with Palestinians? Because it Tells the Truth: James Delingpole, Spectator, June 9, 2018—‘The rule in our household is: if a TV series hasn’t got subtitles, it’s not worth watching,’ a friend told me the other day. Once this approach would have been both extremely limiting and insufferably pompous. In the era of Netflix and Amazon Prime, though, it makes a lot of sense.

The Art Awakening that’s Transforming Jaffa: Rebecca Stadlen Amir, Israel21c, May 21, 2018—When Stockholm art institution Magasin III began revamping an old restaurant space in a residential area of Jaffa, many neighbors had guesses as to what was about to come. One predicted a car showroom, another anticipated a display of kitchen and bath fixtures.

Holy Streets, Ink and Israeli Art: Hagay Hacohen, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2018— Canadian filmmakers Igal Hecht and Aaron Daniel Mandel share a great passion for a value they believe Canada and Israel share – freedom. The two came to Israel to film the third season of Holy Art. Produced for faith-based Canadian broadcaster YES TV, the series documents Israeli artists of all faiths and backgrounds to explore the question of what religious or spiritual art might mean today.

A Jew, an Early Christian and a Roman Meet in Archaeological Park to Be Built on Evacuated Prison: Ruth Schuster, Ha’aretz, Mar 09, 2018—A prison built by the British on an archaeological site in northern Israel in the 1940s is finally going to be evacuated. The walls and barbed wire of Megiddo Prison will be replaced with an archaeological park featuring one of the earliest-known houses of Christian worship, which was found in the ancient Jewish village of Kefar Othnay (a.k.a. Kfar Otnai), as well as the remains of a vast Roman army base across the Qeni river, Megiddo Regional Council announced this week.