How One Israeli Pop Icon Became a Soldier of Fortune

Eyal Golan's decision to withdraw from a rally in support of an IDF soldier charged with manslaughter highlights the moral confusion at the heart of all the singer's actions.

Eyal Golan, October 2015.
Tomer Appelbaum

Singer Eyal Golan’s intention to participate in Tuesday’s dangerous rally in support of the Israeli soldier who shot and killed a subdued Palestinian assailant in Hebron was not just a tactical and PR mistake on his part. It was also the moment in which he revealed himself to be morally confused. The cancellation of his appearance reflects his exploitativeness: The minute he saw that his performance would mean “harming the IDF,” he understood that it was not worth it for him to love this particular soldier.

Golan, who appeared before hundreds of thousands during the big social-protest rally of 2011, seems to have become addicted to his (profitable) self-image as a patriotic singer, one who grasps and articulates the spirit of the times. He is at least right about the latter: The spirit of the times really does involve idiotic appearances by people who don’t have a clue about the fundamental principles of citizenship and which can undermine all our lives.

The protesters who support soldier Elor Azaria – who was charged with manslaughter on Monday – are protesting against themselves and Israel’s laws. They want anarchy, kangaroo courts, double standards. The link between Golan and the rally draws a straight line between moral hollowness and Golan the individual, and between his career and the contorted face of Israeli society.

Golan complained about the predatory nature of society, which he believed turned its back on him when, in November 2013, the police decided to investigate if his driver, father and friends trafficked young girls. His PR person, Rani Rahav, called Golan the nation’s singer, and allowed him to continue seeing himself as a victim. But Golan has not only a talent for singing, but also a talent to represent the inferior, insulting aspect of Israeli nationalism – and at this point its most dangerous one.

He agreed to perform because he thought it would be good for Eyal Golan. But what is this rally if not chauvinism and racism? After all, the problem the soldier’s supporters have is that the victim was an Arab. If the victim was a burglar, rapist or human trafficker, none of the protesters would have believed he should be shot 11 minutes after he was subdued, without trial.

Golan has always had a talent to symbolize in his personality, beliefs, actions and statements the deterioration of Israel into the underworld of thuggery.

I interviewed Golan for Haaretz Magazine in the early 1990s, when his career was in its infancy. A scrawny, young, gifted and accessible singer. His manager-producer at the time, Ishai Ben Zur, spoke for him. Golan had yet to adopt his alpha male persona, but even then, when he did speak, he saw himself as a national figure. Who could have known that he would find himself close to – and now even participating openly in – actions that are morally repulsive and dangerous?

In recent years, his only contribution to Israeli society was when he didn’t interfere with the talented and determined Nasreen Qadri winning first place on 2011’s “Eyal Golan is Calling You” – the reality show built around him with a strange and, in retrospect, horrible name. The Haifa-born performer’s singing in Arabic and Hebrew was beautiful, engaging and full of emotion, and her stage presence and appearance were so hypnotic that even the team of men who sat facing her and around Golan in order to joke in a Las Vegas style didn’t detract from her performance.

But it is impossible to take comfort from the fact that Golan wanted to advance Arab music in Israel, and as a result tolerance. He has no interest whatsoever in equality or a just society. His father’s party games were nothing compared to the society Eyal Golan is helping to establish on the ruins of its predecessor.