The Porn-loving Israeli Folk Singer Who Channels Trump on Facebook

Social media has turned Efraim Shamir from a pleasant musician into one of Israel's most outspoken anti-establishment figures. He has managed to insult religious people, women, rightists and leftists – and he has no qualms about attacking Israeli politicians for destroying the Israeli dream.

Efraim Shamir.
Avishag Shaar Yishuv

Even in an era in which the social networks are so available, it is unusual for a local performer to express his adamant opinion over and over. But Efraim Shamir, best known as guitarist-singer in the iconic 1970s Israeli rock group Kaveret – commonly known as Poogy in English – remains one of the country’s most anti-establishment and provocative artists. In recent years he has been writing an average of 10 posts daily on Facebook, including material spearing the religious establishment and Likud-led government, along with other opinions that manage to spark the ire of a wide range of readers.

So far, he has sparred with Sephardim, Ashkenazim, racists, religious people, rightists, leftists and even fans of the popular singer Shlomo Artzi. In response to a since-failed attempt by Habayit Hayehudi MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli to put curbs on Internet pornography, he wrote: “I love porno. That’s my only sex life. Don’t take it away from me.”

Despite his strident digital presence, when he spoke to Haaretz at a café in Holon, just south of Tel Aviv, he came across as a man who is polite and even vulnerable and introverted, whose anger seems to be released mostly through guitar playing or the computer keyboard. 

“I’m not an important person, but I am known. That’s my only sin,” he said. “People expect me not to talk nonsense, not to sweat and that I will be nice to the entire world. I’m sorry. Everyone has an opinion, and I write what I’m thinking at the moment.”

Asked if he practices self-censorship in light of other instances of backlash against public figures, for example broadcaster Gidi Orsher and artist and writer Yair Garbuz, who made controversial ethnic comments, he replied: “The difference between us is that they represent public entities and the public has the right to express its opinion over what they say.” 

Shamir said that in contrast, he has forgone dependence on government agencies and their financial support. “I am not dependent on anyone,” he boasted, adding that he has been around long enough that he is no longer afraid of a failed career or that the Culture Ministry won’t like him.

Shamir, who following his stint with the wildly successful group Kaveret formed a duo with his then-wife Astar, admitted, however, to deleting Facebook posts and regretting some of the things that he has written on Facebook. 

“I’m impulsive and don’t always connect well in text. Sometimes I send a formulation into the air and, like a bird, it flies wherever it wants. People almost always interpret it differently from what I intended. If you’ve set a bird free and it left droppings on someone’s head, you can still say you’re sorry. Nothing else will help.”

Shamir noted that he was born a Diaspora Jew (in the Soviet Siberian town of Omsk), “and I was raised on the Zionist vision, on Israel as a paradise and a place where a Jewish person is free to say what he wished, building a new, good and proper country. For me, Israel was like a dream come true, until I started to see what wasn’t working here. Everything was being strangled by statements that we were a country in distress and that everyone wants to destroy us.”

That provided an opening for injustices and for politicians who pitted Israelis against one another, yet we continue to vote for them, he asserted. “We have to get beyond the apathy and find someone who can provide us with a quality of life. I give the state money, and it transfers it to entities that come out against me [a reference to religious figures] that tell me what to eat, when to travel, when to have sex with my wife. I want to live in a free country, not in a liberal dictatorship. I want separation of religion and state.”

The reunion of Kaveret in 2013.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Shamir was born 65 years ago in the Soviet Union, moved to Poland, immigrated to Israel and became a member of the Israel Defense Forces Nahal entertainment troupe, where his musical career blossomed. He now lives in Holon with his second wife, Deganit. He has two adult children. His last solo album, “Yam Habeton,” (“Sea of Concrete”) was released 13 years ago and he has no additional albums planned. “You can’t create anything new after the age of 50,” he quipped. 

No reconciliation

In the past, Shamir has said horrible things about Mizrahi music, the genre made popular by Jews of Middle Eastern descent. In 2011, he told Channel 2 that he had no patience for it and that it was not art in his opinion. But that won’t prevent him from hosting two Mizrahi musicians, singer Sagiv Cohen and veteran guitarist Yehuda Keisar, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Piano Festival next Wednesday.

The collaboration is not an attempt on Shamir’s part at reconciliation. He says he knows both the musicians and has high regard for them. He was impressed by Cohen after going to a concert of his. “Most of the work of the prior generation of the Mizrahi wave was at celebrations [weddings, etc.] or events, but he is a member of the younger generation and at his concert, people sat and listened to the music. Yehuda Keisar is like the Shimon Peres of the Mizrahim. He’s like a walking history book, a living echo of everything that has happened in Israeli music.” 

Asked whether he listens to Mizrahi music at home, Shamir replied that there are things that he likes and things that he doesn’t like. When the conversation gravitated to Kaveret’s reunion concerts, Shamir said wryly that the group has been much more successful since it ceased to exist. “Every reunion like that is a project. Everyone stops his career, gets together for rehearsals, gets on stage and then the concert is over and that’s it. You’re left with your tongue hanging out. It doesn’t matter what you experienced, what you saw, how wonderful or horrible it was. It’s rather frustrating.” 

Asked whether any future reunion concerts are in the works, Shamir replied: “No.” And could the bespectacled 17-year-old new immigrant that Shamir was when he came to Israel in 1968 with the name Yefim “Fima” Shmukler have made a success of himself as a reality show musical contestant? “Not today,” he said emphatically. “I have a problem with organizations and frameworks that right after they’re established look only after themselves, like the church, like the rabbinate, like commercial firms.”

Shamir also has an opinion about the institution of the American presidency. “Hillary Clinton is no sucker. She’s right [for the job] in every respect and she’s a smart woman. On the other hand, as someone who is an adventure seeker, I would very much like Donald Trump to win, even if the world goes to hell. At least it would be interesting. He is a crude type, but he’s not stupid.”