David Broza Sings for Peace, but the Message Is Lost on Diaspora Jews

After a night spent at a David Broza concert in Ottawa, Mira Sucharov says that it's time for Jews in the Diaspora to do more than just listen to Israeli peace songs.

A recent night spent at a David Broza concert hosted by the Jewish community in Ottawa turned out to be a night of contradictions.

Broza’s music that evening - music that I’ve loved since I was 15 at Jewish summer camp, music that accompanied my wedding processional, and music that helps bind Diaspora Jews with Israelis - was, as expected, hauntingly beautiful. David Broza’s voice alternated between husky and pure; his Spanish-inflected acoustic guitar-playing was inspired; his soft-spoken yet chatty demeanor was warm and inviting; and at 57, he is as attractive now as he ever was.

But for me the night contained more than a hint of irony.

True, most of Broza’s music is about that most universal language of love. But his most well-known song, the song the crowd was waiting for and with which he concluded his set, is a peace ballad in the best tradition of folk-rock peace anthems.

As Broza broke into the opening chords of “Yihyeh Tov,” the anthem of the Israeli peace movement Broza helped found, the crowd went wild before settling into a hushed silence. As the Hebrew verses - penned by Israeli poet Yehonatan Geffen - unfolded, the audience listened attentively.

And then, as Broza sang the most squarely political line in the song - “just get out of the territories!” (rak tetz’u me’ha’shtachim!) - one person applauded loudly.

O.K., that person was me.

As I looked around, I wondered whether my interpretation was held by me alone, a fan desperate for her pop celebrity icon to be an ambassador for the values she holds dear.

A few days later, I reached Broza by phone in New York, where he is continuing his North American tour. I asked him how he interprets the line about needing to get out of the territories.

“We have no business being there,” Broza told me. “It’s a pain on everyone’s lives; it’s killing our country.” Broza went on, “I don’t agree with the occupation. Full stop. Period. It worked in 1967 when we needed to defend ourselves. It was a bargaining point, not an annexation point.” Now, he added, the occupation is “ridiculous” and “dangerous.”

And while he told me that he “doesn’t come to make political statements on stage,” I couldn’t help being struck by the tension between his legacy and the most visible concerns of the mainstream Diaspora audiences he plays to.

There is an inherent contradiction in a Disapora Jewish crowd hungry for connection to Israel and deeply engaged in welcoming the musical face of Israel’s peace movement and yet so reticent about doing anything to further, in any serious way, Israel’s path to peace.

The story of conservative Diaspora Jewry establishments - epitomized by the U.S. Israel lobby but apparent in so many lesser expressions of institutional power - is by now well known. But I still find myself asking, why the apathy (at best) and antipathy (at worst) to agitating against the occupation by so many of my fellow Diaspora Jews, even when they are swaying to the music of the peace movement?

Does no one consider the unfulfilled legacy of Israeli peace songs? It was the singing of Ya’acov Rotblit’s peace anthem, led by Israeli singer Miri Aloni, “Shir LaShalom,” (Song for Peace) that preceded the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at his last peace rally on earth. Does no one recall Nurit Galron’s “After Us the Flood,” and Hava Alberstein’s “Had Gadya,” which both tried to serve as warnings of an unfettered occupation during the first Intifada?

“Oseh Shalom” is another of the modern-day anthems of world Jewry. The song suggests a yearning for divine intervention to make the world more peaceful.

Perhaps it will take a God who one day takes pity on His (or Her) mortals who can’t seem to share a tiny sliver of land and finally decides to rain down peace upon earth.

But maybe Diaspora communities should be less passive. Maybe they should hasten the day of peace that everyone seems to long for, a hastening which, in the era of Jewish sovereignty and Israeli power, should be more about working to build the most hospitable situation for a two-state solution than it should be about waiting for the other side.

Maybe my fellow Diaspora Jews will one day discover the political and spiritual will to commit en masse to help bring about a lasting peace that seeks to end the occupation. But then again, with a night spent with David Broza’s earthy guitar and silky voice, why spoil the mood?