The Israeli Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Music at the last minute changed the title of the award it presented Monday night to controversial singer Ariel Zilber, over the latter's extreme right-wing views.
ACUM amended the name of the prize from "lifetime achievement award" to the "contribution to Israeli music award," in a move that has calmed artists concerned about Zilber's extremist views, but also inflamed right-wing politicians.
Mordechai Naor, the chairman of ACUM's control committee, explained the group's stance unofficially on Monday, saying: "I think that awarding a lifetime achievement award to Zilber was problematic because he has extreme opinions in several areas, not only on matters of left and right. The rightists may be coming to his defense, but there are other problems, like the gay community, for example."
Zilber, a one-time bad boy of Israeli pop music, found far-right-wing Orthodox Judaism over the last decade, supporting the transfer of Arabs, moving to Gush Katif shortly before the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and condemning homosexuals and soldiers.
ACUM changed the name of the prize following protests by artists including the singer Achinoam Nini (Noa), who canceled her participation in the ceremony and turned down the prize she was meant to receive Monday.
"The decision to present Ariel Zilber a lifetime achievement award is turning its back on public responsibility," Noa wrote on her Facebook page.
Dalia Rabin, the daughter of slain former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, initiated the move but told Channel 2 that she did not partake in the vote on the matter.
"Ariel Zilber's music is not the problem," Rabin said. "On the contrary, he is a talented artist. Still, his opinions regarding minorities, individual rights and the gay community are problematic. Giving a lifetime achievement award to Zilber is problematic for Israeli society."
The decision drew fire among politicians, however. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the decision "dangerous" on his Facebook page. "ACUM's folding and decision to award Ariel Zilber a prize only for his contribution to Israeli music instead of a life achievement award is surrender and dangerous obsequiousness to the Bolshevism of the leftist extremists," he wrote.
"The same ones who went to war on all fronts in order to allow a high school teacher to cast doubt on the morality of the Israel Defense Forces, in the name of freedom of expression, are fighting now to shut the mouth of an artist about whom there is no disputing his musical brilliance and his contribution to Israeli culture throughout his life, and they are denying him the recognition he deserves," added Lieberman.
Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett told lawmakers at a party meeting on Monday that ACUM was joining "the same thought police that denied Nobel laureate Prof. [Robert] Aumann an honorary doctorate at the University of Haifa."
Fellow Habayit Hayehui Minister Uri Ariel called the decision a "black flag for all advocates of culture in Israel. The arrogance of the leftist organizations trying to suppress the creation of anyone who does not think like them arouses disgust." He added, "He does not need to pay for the extremist leftist opinions of Ms. Nini [Noa]."
Noa praised ACUM over its decision, saying the organization had acted correctly in separating the quality of Zilber's work as much as possible from his ideological ties.
Zilber did not release a public comment and was expected to relate to the issue in his speech on Monday night.
ACUM has yet to issue an official comment.
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