Where Should 'Enlightened' Israelis Draw the Line on Art Censorship?

Liza Rozovsky
Liza Rozovsky
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Israeli singer Omer Adam performing, in 2018.
Israeli singer Omer Adam performing, in 2018.Credit: Eldad Alony
Liza Rozovsky
Liza Rozovsky

The first time I heard Omer Adam’s song “Kakdila,” I just chuckled. But as the anger of my Russian-speaking brothers and sisters grew, the more I came to share that feeling. For me, as for many of my friends, the song brought up unpleasant memories from the 1990s. I’m not even talking about the crude sexist cracks, but about something much deeper and more basic: the mockery of my accent and my language. Every Russian-speaker who went anywhere on the street, rode a bus or attended high school in Israel 20-30 years ago invariably heard “kakdila” and “horosho” shouted at her in a mocking and disparaging way.

So yes. Something inside me cringes when I hear the song. Something inside me rejoices when I read how it is being excluded from the major radio playlists. Perhaps this song of Omer Adam’s, like many others, isn’t being included on the playlists because the music programmers don’t think it’s up to par, but it’s hard to deny the sense that public pressure is playing a role here. The relentless media uproar over the past week is an indication what a huge public personality Adam has become, but also of the strength that my community has amassed here over the past 30 years.

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All the same, I cannot for the life of me understand what the fundamental difference is between Adam’s song being rejected by the top radio stations in the wake of public criticism, and the removal of David Reeb’s painting “Jerusalem” from the Ramat Gan Museum of Art for a very similar pretext – offensiveness? Why do “we,” the so-called enlightened folks, object so strongly to the song, when we’re so willing to fight for the painting?

What is the difference between the anger, which I myself share in many ways, provoked by Adam’s song, and the anger, which I do not share in any way, aroused by Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi’s painting “Itzik,” which deals with the very same subject: the relationship between a Russian woman and a Mizrahi man?

One possible explanation is that we make a distinction, unconsciously perhaps, between art works displayed in a museum and therefore ostensibly part of high culture, and pop songs that we perceive as consumer products. A consumer product can become the object of a legitimate consumer boycott. A work of art, on the other hand, can only become an object of censorship (which, naturally, cannot be abided). Even if this censorship originated with a community or pressure group that was offended, I presume that this same enlightened “we” would not justify it. Just think of the Mohammed political cartoons, for example.

Another possible explanation is that we interpret Reeb’s and Cherkassky’s paintings as subversive and self-aware while we perceive Adam’s song as stemming from ignorance and therefore offensive. But do either of these explanations adequately justify my urge to gloat at seeing “Kakdila” banned from the “state-sanctioned” airwaves? I’m not so sure.

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