A ceremony in Jerusalem celebrating Israeli popular music was overshadowed Tuesday when a five-year-old sex scandal involving singer Eyal Golan led to protests against a Knesset caucus’ decision to honor him alongside 11 other local musicians.
As Golan took the stage at the Knesset to receive his award, young female activists in the audience stood and shouted protests against him. They were countered by audience members supportive of Golan who chanted “Eyal! Eyal!” in an effort to drown them out.
In a rather surreal scene, the protesters were escorted out of the room by Knesset security guards as Golan sang a romantic duet with the chairwoman of the caucus honoring the musicians, MK Nava Boker (Likud). As they concluded their song and Golan thanked Boker for his prize, she responded by squeezing his shoulder supportively and reassuring him: “We love you.”
The Knesset Caucus for the Promotion of Israeli Music had spearheaded the efforts to present official awards for those making musical contributions to Israeli culture. Its chairwoman, Boker, attempted to paper over the dispute in her opening remarks at the ceremony. After personally escorting Golan into the hall, she declared that “Hebrew music unites us all and belongs to us all.”
There was “no place more appropriate than the Israeli Knesset” to honor artists from various genres and ethnicities, and to emphasize that we are “one people, one state, with one fate,” she added.
In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, numerous women’s advocacy organizations and politicians had protested the decision to include Golan among the honorees receiving a certificate of appreciation. They argued against officially bestowing laurels on an artist who had been accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls. The honor, they said, was especially inappropriate in the age of #MeToo and growing public outrage over violence against women.
The group behind Tuesday’s protests, Lotem – a new, guerrilla-style feminist group – got creative to demonstrate its displeasure, hanging teen-size panties and bras outside of the Knesset ahead of Golan’s arrival.
Last week, in an effort to prevent Golan from receiving the certificate, five Knesset members sent a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, demanding that the decision be reversed. They said that honoring Golan was “spitting in the face of victims of sexual violence,” sending a signal that sex between adult men and underage women, “even when it doesn’t reach the threshold of being criminal, is somehow normative.
“Someone who uses his fame to take advantage of minors, to drive them around in [a vehicle nicknamed] the ‘pussymobile’ and give them cigarettes and alcohol, isn’t worthy of being honored by the Knesset,” the letter read, referring to evidence in the scandal that led to the conviction and imprisonment of the singer’s father, Danny Biton, in 2015.
Biton’s crimes involved trading gifts and favors – including trips to his son’s concerts and home – in exchange for sex with Biton and his friends. While Golan was not deemed to have committed criminal acts himself, the testimony and evidence gathered in the case painted him in a very unflattering light.
Opposition to Golan’s award heightened Sunday when members of the Knesset Israeli music caucus rebelled against Boker, joining the call for Edelstein to cancel the ceremony.
One of the lawmakers leading the protest, MK Mossi Raz (Meretz), said in media interviews that while he “appreciated” Golan’s musical contributions, honoring him in the Knesset after all of the accusations led him to believe that “we should find someone else to give prizes to.”
In response, Golan’s legal team told a television entertainment program they had sent a letter to Raz, announcing the singer’s plans to sue him for 1 million shekels (about $265,000) if he did not apologize and retract his statement. Golan’s legal team has frequently threatened to sue journalists and entertainment figures who criticize the singer. Raz has publicly stood by his comments.
Boker herself dismissed the pushback as “populist protests that have nothing to do with this event.” Her defense of Golan was echoed previously by Culture Minister Miri Regev, who said the singer “deserves this honor,” adding she was “proud” of his achievements.
Both women cast the controversy in political terms, portraying it as an attempt by opposition lawmakers to attack the Netanyahu government. Fans of Golan echoed those sentiments on social media, accusing “leftists” of unfairly targeting Golan. The language at the ceremony was even blunter, with the protesters being labeled “left-wing s****.”
Edelstein, meanwhile, did his best to skirt the issue, releasing a statement in which he distanced himself from the controversy. He said he had not approved the decision to honor Golan and did not possess the authority to forbid the caucus from honoring him.
Many Israeli feminists are unhappy that Golan’s musical career appears to have suffered minimal damage from the fallout of the scandal surrounding him between 2013 and 2015.
Golan’s father, Biton, pled guilty to taking advantage of teenage girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, bringing them to his son’s performances and home, and giving them gifts in exchange for sexual services for himself and his friends.
Biton, the indictment read, was “using his family connection to Eyal to promote his standing among Eyal’s female fans and among his acquaintances, tricking the young fans and treating them disdainfully and with a humiliating attitude – as though they were objects to satisfy and serve him, including his sexual desires and those of his acquaintances.”
Biton confessed to the crimes under a plea bargain and was sentenced to two years’ jail time. Golan was involved in the initial investigation and was initially placed under house arrest. Ultimately, though, he was not charged with having had sexual relations with minors. However, the stain of his involvement has remained.
In a separate matter, he was convicted of tax evasion and falsifying records in 2014, for which he was sentenced to community service and required to pay fines.
In addition to the Golan controversy, a further shadow was cast on the ceremony by the death Sunday of popular singer Yigal Bashan. Boker said Tuesday’s event was posthumously dedicated to Bashan, whose funeral was held the same day.
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