Bereaved Families Protest Israel Prize for Songwriter Who 'Humanized Suicide Bombers'

Group backed by far-right Im Tirzu takes issue with shirt Yehonatan Geffen wore on social media bearing slogan, ‘All a suicide bomber needs is a hug’

File photo: Songwriter Yehonatan Geffen speaks to reporters in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2012.
Tomer Appelbaum

A group of bereaved Israeli families have called to reverse a decision announced on Wednesday to give this year's Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement to songwriter Yehonatan Geffen, who they say demonstrated "dangerous delusion" over his attitudes to Palestinian violent attacks.

The Bocharim Haim (Choosing Life) group, which includes many families who have lost members in hostilities, took issue with a shirt that Geffen appeared in on social media that featured the slogan “All a suicide bomber needs is a hug.”

In a letter to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the group also asked that the 25,000-shekel ($6,800) cash award that goes with the prize be given instead to families who have lost loved ones to terrorism.

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The Culture Ministry replied that the decision to give the Israel Prize to Geffen for his writing for children was made by an independent committee and the ministry was not involved in the choice. The formal Israel Prize awards ceremony is on Independence Day, which this year falls on May 9.

Over the years, Geffen has written a number of children’s books, including books of poetry, some of which were set to music in the late 1980s on an album that was one of the best-selling albums ever of Israeli song.

In a letter bearing the logo of the far-right political group Im Tirtzu, which has supported Bocharim Haim in recent years, the group demanded that the decision to award Geffen the Israel Prize be rescinded immediately over the slogan on the shirt.

“The desire to hug a suicide bomber humanizes him [the bomber], turning him from a monster into something resembling you and us, turning him from a hate-filled, deadly psychopath into an ordinary person who, if he is only hugged … poof, he becomes a rational, cultured person – a dangerous delusion that endangers our lives and that is demonstrated over and over to be a baseless delusion,” Bocharim Haim wrote to Regev.

In response, the Culture Ministry stated that it is not a party to the professional committees that select Israel Prize recipients and by law cannot take part in the selection process. Geffen himself had not responded for this article at press time.