Israel's defense minister has called for a ban on the work of a beloved songwriter, author and performer from the airwaves because of a poem he posted on Instagram, comparing jailed Palestinian protester Ahed Tamimi to Jewish heroines including Anne Frank and Hannah Senesh, and to Joan of Arc.
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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Tuesday that he had ordered the commander of Army Radio, Shimon Elkabetz, not to play songs written by Yehonatan Geffen or to allow him to be interviewed on the popular station, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces. The minister also recommended that “all Israeli media outlets do the same.”
“The State of Israel should not give a platform to a drunk who compared a girl who was murdered in the Holocaust and a heroine who battled the Nazi regime, to Ahed Tamimi, the bimbo who attacked a soldier. Geffen’s headline-chasing is infuriating and nauseating,” said Lieberman in a Facebook post, declaring that the “proper platform” for Geffen was Al-Manar – the Hezbollah-run Lebanese television station.
Geffen, 70, a prominent and outspoken left-wing voice, has been a fixture of Israeli popular culture since the early 1970s. Over the years, he has expressed stinging criticism of the government and army, speaking out against the occupation and decrying military operations, which have earned him death threats. After publicly calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “racist” in 2015, Geffen was attacked in front of his home by assailants who called him a “leftist traitor.”
The short poem on Geffen’s Instagram post that infuriated Minister Lieberman read as follows:
A pretty girl of 17 committed a terrible act
And when an Israeli officer invaded her house again
She slapped him in the face
She was born into this farce
Of 50 years of occupation and humiliation
And when the story of this struggle is told
You, Ahed Tamimi
Like David who slapped Goliath
Will be counted alongside Joan of Arc, Hannah Senesh and Anne Frank
Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian from Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, was arrested in December, imprisoned and charged with five counts of assaulting security forces and with incitement, after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier as he stood on her property was circulated on social media.
On January 17, an Israeli military appeals court ruled that she would not be released from jail until the legal proceedings against her have been completed. Military judge Maj. Haim Baliti rejected Tamimi’s appeal to be released from detention while she awaits trial.
After Lieberman made his declaration about Geffen, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit issued a public statement, clarifying that the defense minister did not have the legal authority to dictate what Army Radio broadcasts. According to the regulations of the station, Mendelblit said, all content-related decisions are made by the professionals operating the station – a situation that has been upheld in the past by the Supreme Court.
Lieberman shot back that he “rejected” Mendelblit’s position. “It’s my job as defense minister to protect the soldiers of this country,” he said, adding that military personnel are not permitted to respond publicly to remarks by politicians or other public figures. The minister also noted that he was “guided by common sense, which supersedes bureaucratic dictates” – that is, for him it is more important to stand up for soldiers rather than to “protect Yehonatan Geffen, who degrades Jewish history and IDF soldiers."
Army Radio, Lieberman added, "is first and foremost a military radio station and shouldn’t be used as a platform for incitement” by a person who “tortures” Israel and its soldiers.
This latest controversial incident follow previous actions by Lieberman that were designed to limit the voices heard on Army Radio, a popular mainstream platform for news and entertainment. In September, he reportedly met with the station commander Elkabetz and told him to refrain from playing music or interviewing musicians or news makers who had dodged the draft and hadn’t served in the army.
Tuesday, in response to Lieberman’s action against Geffen, several left-wing Knesset members slammed him for acting like a “commissar” and a “censor.”
MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz said that Geffen’s songs are an integral part of the country’s soundtrack and “will remain so after the violent shutdown of the microphones by Commissar Lieberman will be forgotten history.”
MK Itzik Shmueli of Zionist Union said that, in his opinion, Geffen's comparisons of Tamimi with Holocaust icon Frank and Senesh, who was killed in 1944 after parachuting into war-torn Europe to rescue Jews, were “extreme” and “hurtful.” At the same time, the lawmaker added, “a reality in which a commissar gives orders as to what can or can’t be broadcasts and censors the radio is delusional and must cease now.”