The Most Israeli Music There Is

Matti Friedman reflects on the significance of the once-despised genre of Israeli popular music known as “Mizraḥi,” which is “a blend of Middle Eastern, Greek, and Western influences associated with Israelis who have roots in the Islamic world.” He writes:

[Much Mizraḥi music stands] firmly in the Western pop tradition, with little that Brian Wilson or Justin Timberlake would find confusing. . . . But compared to much contemporary music in the United States, its mood is unusually innocent. The attitude toward women rarely deviates from saccharine: they’re “queens” or “beauties,” or described in terms of endearment lifted directly from Arabic songs into Hebrew, like “my life,” “my eyes,” or “my heart.” They’re objects, certainly, but objects of adoration. In mainstream Mizraḥi pop one can be heartbroken about a woman but never too angry. There are no “bitches” or anything remotely close. Foul language is unthinkable. One of the guiding principles here is a ban on cynicism. . . .

[A] kind of unapologetic national loyalty is [also] present in Mizraḥi music as it no longer is in most other Israeli songs, which these days tend to opt for angst, sarcasm, or attempts to pretend we’re all somewhere else. More and more Israeli artists sing in English. But rootlessness is not going to yield much worth listening to, and Israeli audiences know it. Mizraḥi music doesn’t pretend to be from anywhere but right here. . . . It’s not just Israeli music, in other words, but the most Israeli music there is. Many aspects of Israel’s politics and cultural life, like the film industry, are warped by international interest and money and tailored to foreign specifications. Mizraḥi music is immune, and everything about it is local.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli music, Mizrahi Jewry, Popular music

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship