Israeli Popular Music Is Bridging a Painful Fault Line

Many Israelis took extra pride in their country this weekend when the pop singer Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision musical contest—a major event in Europe and the Middle East—with a song bearing a distinctively Middle Eastern flavor. Considering the changes in Israeli popular culture over the past few decades, Matti Friedman explains what one can learn about the Jewish state from its music:

A telling cultural moment occurred at [Israel’s] official [70th]-anniversary gala, a glitzy musical extravaganza televised from Jerusalem on April 18 (the date of Independence Day on the Hebrew calendar). The opening number was, predictably, a Hebrew classic, “From the Songs of my Beloved Land,” with lyrics by Leah Goldberg, a revered poet who features on the 100-shekel banknote. . . . But the singer in a shiny white gown who belted out a cover for a national TV audience was Sarit Hadad, one of Israel’s biggest pop stars and the queen of a genre called “Mizraḥi,” or “eastern.” In the hands of Hadad, who has the style and vocal power of the great divas of the Arab world, and with the addition of instruments such as the oud, the poet’s words were transformed into a song of the Middle East. . . .

The division between Jews from Europe and Jews from the Islamic world remains one of Israel’s most painful fault lines, and it has played out in pop music. For many years, the Mizraḥi sound was scorned by the curators of Israeli culture and kept on the margins. In record stores, you’d have a section for “Israeli” music, meaning mostly music by artists of European ancestry and orientation, and a separate section for “Mizraḥi” or “Mediterranean” music, even though this music, too, was in Hebrew and produced in Israel. . . .

Recent years have seen a reversal. Mizraḥi music is now the country’s leading pop genre. . . . The contentious politician responsible for this year’s anniversary celebrations—and for Hadad’s [performance]—is the culture minister, Miri Regev, a combative voice known for railing against the old cultural elites. Regev, who is of Moroccan descent, belongs to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, whose political base has traditionally been heavy on Israelis with roots in the Islamic world. Regev regularly stokes nationalist sentiment and is reviled on the left. . . .

Regev has said publicly that Arabic music “has something to offer Israeli culture,” and, in her post at the Culture Ministry, has made it her business to push the Middle Eastern sound to center stage. Last year’s Independence Day celebration starred Nasreen Qadri, a popular performer in the Mizraḥi genre who is Arab: something that didn’t seem to happen under culture ministers from the left, who might have wanted a peace agreement with the Arab world but didn’t think much of Arab culture, or of the Israeli Jews who share that culture.

Read more at Globe and Mail

More about: Arts & Culture, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli music, Mizrahi Jewry, Popular music

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict