Kahane's Singer of Choice

Democracy isn’t a technical system comprised of elections and majority rule, but a worldview that puts human rights, equality among people and opposition to racism at its center.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

For those who insist on getting confused and going astray: Racism is not an opinion. Therefore, singer Achinoam Nini (known internationally as Noa) was spot on. To write, compose and sing with enthusiasm that Meir Kahane “was right” isn’t covered by freedom of expression; it constitutes support for a crime and severe incitement to racism.

The same is true of singer Ariel Zilber’s enthusiastic support for that brand of terrorism known as “price-tag” attacks. And ditto for the fact that he is the only man in Israel − outside the family of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer, Yigal Amir − who joined with the Amir family in making a tape calling for his release. And for the song he sang to a tune by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the rabbi of the settlements’ “hilltop youth,” endorser of the book “The King’s Torah: Laws of Killing Non-Jews” and author of the book “Baruch Hagever,” which lauds the man who slaughtered 29 Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. And for the song that advocates only buying from Jews, in Zilber’s beautiful and enthusiastic voice.

The song “Kahane was right” is a well-made, rousing song. Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” was similarly a well-made film. But a democratic society isn’t supposed to award prizes to, or laud the contributions of, inciters to criminal racism − certainly not prizes for “lifetime achievement,” but also not for their contribution to music. And especially not when some of the musical work in question itself crosses the line into criminal racism.

The heart of the confusion stems from a thin, narrow, flattened, technical and, in essence, anti-democratic definition of democracy. Democracy isn’t a technical system comprised of elections and majority rule. It’s not a lottery among different “viewpoints” in which, as in a reality TV show, you wait to see which viewpoint wins a majority.

Democracy isn’t just the rules of the game. Democracy is a worldview that puts human rights, equality among people and opposition to racism at its center. That’s precisely why Kahane’s movement was outlawed.

Noa didn’t boycott anybody. She gave up the award, along with its 10,000 shekels ($2,800), to avoid having to stand alongside a racist who sings songs of praise to Kahane and supports the murderer of a prime minister. Noa, together with Gil Dor, published an inspiring open letter on the subject. Many Israeli artists should have signed it. When there were no men, Noa and Dor were men. They reminded us of what ought to have been self-evident.

Israel was established in the aftermath of other democracies’ collapse. That happened when anti-democratic fascism made use of technical democracy, won “democratic” elections, achieved a tyranny of the majority and immediately embarked on racist persecution. Therefore, Israel is the one country above all where it ought to be self-evident that a narrow, technical definition of democracy has no place. That criminal racism is beyond the pale. That one doesn’t grant it legitimacy. That one doesn’t grant prizes that laud and encourage those who enthusiastically incite to it in song.

The support for the court singer of Kahane and the Amir family by senior ministers such as Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman − the latter of whom was himself convicted of hitting children − is scandalous. So too is their assault on ACUM, the musicians’ association that granted the prize, for having narrowed the prize’s definition. When senior ministers support someone who supports the murderer of a prime minister, every Israeli ought to understand what is happening in Israel.

Would a man who sang “Bin Laden was right” receive a public award − and from an association of artists, yet − in any democracy? Would someone who supported the murderers of Gandhi, John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King be brought to the dais as an honoree? Of course not. There’s no such thing as a democracy without self-respect.

Noa restored a little bit of our trampled self-respect to us. A little bit of what should have been self-evident. A little bit of refusal to remain silent about or cooperate with racism. Noa and Dor are our prize.

Ariel Zilber. Is he worthy of the respect shown by ACUM?Credit: Moti Milrod
Achinoam Nini should be praised for her brave stance in defense of democracy.Credit: BauBau

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