The Politics of Israeli Popular Music

In Israel, even the musical is political.

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And his own morale is on the way up, too. Along with the many reactions to his nonconformist nature ("I don't care") there are also the moments of gratification: "Today, when I pass by the school where I studied, I see that the graffiti 'We Are an Armed Generation' by Aviv Gefen has been replaced by 'Divide and Conquer' [his own hit]. That makes me a very happy man."

Perhaps the graffiti has been replaced, but Aviv Gefen does not intend to let the change happen without him. The singer who has lines in his songs like "Occupy the peace, not the territories," is now performing a duet with Tamer Nafar in the song, "Innocent Criminals." Written by Nafar following the events of October 2000, when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by Israeli police, the song contains the lines: "You say the Arabs are primitive / say the Arabs are aggressive / say we are criminals and barbarians we aren't / But just in case we are, this is what the government did to us / Jews demonstrate, the police take clubs in hand / The Arabs demonstrate, the police take their lives."

Tamer Nafar, 24, is a rap singer from Lod. He found his way to music, he says, after listening to the rapper Tupac. "I heard his words and strongly identified with them. After a while, I also fell in love with the rhythm. Gefen heard "Innocent Criminals" on Internet, and liked it, and got in touch with me, which led to the duet."

In spite of the relative openness of record companies in Israel to political statements by performers, Nafar has come up against a variety of frustrating responses: "The record companies are a little afraid to touch my material. They don't see a target audience for Arabs. We perform all the time [Nafar appears with his brother Suhel and his friend Mahmoud Izhrari], but it is holding me back and I have to release songs to stay in the market. After all, I am appealing to an audience of 600 million Arabs. In the meantime, we are slowly putting together the disk, but I am optimistic. Even without a record company we have succeeded in doing a lot of things. We have 20 underground songs in the market."

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Michal Palti is a journalist with Haaretz.