Two politicians in Israel recently referred to music in one context or another. This made me prick up my ears and pay attention, which is not something I usually do when I come across statements by politicians, in Israel or anywhere else.
The first was the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. When asked why he preferred to stand trial for the crimes and misdemeanours of which he is accused, he replied (not his exact words, but the gist of them): “The judges in Jerusalem go to synagogue and the judges in Tel Aviv go to the Philharmonic.” What he was implying was that the judges in Jerusalem are honest, god-fearing people, while the ones in Tel Aviv are hedonistic heathen.
As someone who prefers attending a concert by the Philharmonic to going to a synagogue service, I find that statement and its implications inherently offensive, even barbaric, indicating what is to me an incomprehensible antipathy to the high culture embodied in classical music and a preference for chauvinistic traditionalism. I would hope, however, that members of Israel’s judicial system, even if observant Jews living in Jerusalem, would not allow their decisions to be swayed by religious considerations. But of course, there’s no way of knowing how things will turn out in the final event. On the other hand, what can one expect from a prime minister who appoints a Minister of Culture who makes no secret of her disdain for opera, classical music, world literature, and anything associated even vaguely with ‘Kulchur,’ to use Ezra Pound’s term.
The other, less senior, politician, one Yoaz Hendel, who is a member of the Blue-White party, referred to the differences in Israel’s population as being exemplified in the fact that some of them come from backgrounds that involve attending concerts in Vienna while others come from an environment where the beat of the ‘darbuka’ (a kind of drum used in music originating from North Africa) prevails. This statement, apparently made in an attempt to describe Israel’s cultural diversity, was pounced upon by interested parties and used as a political weapon to denigrate the supposed tenet of ‘cultural superiority’ held by Israelis of European origin.
How much truth there is in either statement is open to question. To condemn all judges who attend concerts of classical music, whether in Tel Aviv or anywhere else, seems to me to be the height (or perhaps depths) of prejudice and ignorance. Not only is that statement a sweeping and probably erroneous generalization, it is also irrelevant. But I suppose at a time when Netanyahu is standing with his back to the wall and facing a future criminal trial as well as possible humiliation in the upcoming general election, no statement can be regarded as too outrageous given the situation.
As for the cultural diversity of Israel’s population, making a contrast between western classical music and the music preferred by that segment of the population that originates from North Africa is too stark and simplistic. There are infinite variations and groupings regarding cultural and musical preferences between the two extremes, as well as some cross-over of preferences between and among groupings. But politicians are prone to speak in generalisations and over-simplifications, whether in order to gain attention, win votes or simply pander to their supposed electorate.
The bottom line is that as Israel’s ever-more-demoralized population prepares to go to the voting booth for the third time in a year, with no foreseeable realistic hope of avoiding a fourth round, its politicians are resorting to increasingly outrageous statements aimed at rousing the electorate from its inertia and possibly even changing its mind about whom to vote for.
I have never voted for Netanyahu, and his latest antics convince me that I never will. As for Yoaz Hendel, well, he’s still young and ambitious, probably eager for attention, no matter how it’s achieved. He has claimed that his words were taken out of context, but even in context politicians should be very careful about what they say. And even more so, about what they do.