Leonard Cohen song is anthem of Jewish exclusivists

US Politics
on 74 Comments

On May 21, Israeli Jews celebrated 50 years of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem with a light show on the Old City walls, and the highlight was a rendition of the late Leonard Cohen’s most popular song, Hallelujah. You can see most of it on my shaky video here:

The Jerusalem celebration was feverishly religious-nationalist, and treated the 1967 war as a great triumph, with a lot of Jewish imagery. Hebrew standards were also played: Jerusalem of Gold and Hatikvah.

I love Leonard Cohen’s music, but I found the use of Cohen’s song as an anthem to exclusivism disturbing. Of course an artist doesn’t control the uses of his work, especially a dead artist, but songs acquire political resonance for a reason; and Cohen would surely have approved.

When Cohen died last year, at 82, he was saluted by Israel’s prime minister and president for sticking by Israel with his famous serenade to Ariel Sharon and other soldiers during the 1973 war.

Leonard Cohen singing to Israeli troops including Ariel Sharon in 1973

Cohen knew “to accompany the state of Israel in the battlefields and in times of growth,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said. Cohen at times offered his work as a salute to Jewish Israel, and he was “revered” in the country. It shows. I’m going to have a harder time listening to Bird on a Wire now.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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74 Responses

  1. Toujoursmoi
    May 24, 2017, 7:31 am

    I am so very disappointed to learn of his involvement. I will no longer enjoy his song, Dance me to the end of love, which is one of my favorites.

    Hard to believe how shallow he was, not have known of the suffering of the Palestinians.

    • festus
      May 24, 2017, 1:26 pm

      This Leonard Cohen phenomena is odd.

      I never heard of him until a couple of years ago — at which time he was presented in the media as this fabulous artist who had been famous for decades.

      Now I follow pop culture enough to recognize at least the name of anyone celebrity who has achieved fame yet I had never heard of this guy.

      • eljay
        May 24, 2017, 2:13 pm

        || festus: This Leonard Cohen phenomena is odd. I never heard of him until a couple of years ago — at which time he was presented in the media as this fabulous artist who had been famous for decades. … ||

        He was Canadian and a big deal in Canada. That might explain why you never heard of him. ;-)

      • oldgeezer
        May 24, 2017, 2:21 pm

        His first international hit was in 67…. he was quite famous but considered by many to be more of a poet than a musical performer.

      • RoHa
        May 24, 2017, 8:31 pm

        Susannah’s tea and oranges were well known, even in Australia, way back when RoHa was young. (Shortly after the break-up of Gondwanaland.) But I don’t recall anything else from him for a very long time, so perhaps his moment of greatest international fame preceded your lifetime.

        Unless you are a cantankerous old git as well.

      • festus
        May 25, 2017, 10:33 am

        I did some more digging.

        Cohen made his Billboard chart debut at age 33 on March 2, 1968, when his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, debuted at No. 162 on the Billboard 200. The set would peak at No. 83 that April.

        Cohen added three more modestly charting albums on the Billboard 200 through 1973: Songs From a Room (No. 63, 1969), Songs of Love and Hate (No. 145, 1971) and Leonard Cohen: Live Songs (No. 156, 1973).

        He recorded six more studio albums through 1992, but wouldn’t again appear on the Billboard 200 until 2001, when Ten New Songs dented the chart with a No. 143 peak.

        Three more entries on the chart would rise no higher than No. 76 (Live in London, 2009) until Feb. 18, 2012, when Old Ideas blasted in at No. 3, marking Cohen’s first top 10.

        Now I know why I never heard of him until 2012!

      • Cazador
        May 29, 2017, 8:31 pm


        «He was Canadian and a big deal in Canada. That might explain why you never heard of him.»

        He was a Montrealer and very found of the city, and he also was very estimed in that open-minded city, Québec province metropolis, and so is his son Adam, singer-songwriter.


      • eljay
        May 29, 2017, 8:40 pm

        || Cazador: eljay … He was a Montrealer … and he also was very estimed in that open-minded city … ||

        Right, that’s what I said: He was Canadian and a big deal in Canada.

  2. Tony Greenstein
    May 24, 2017, 8:37 am

    I also love Leonard Cohen’s music. We have to separate the artist from what s/he produces. There are many great works, poetry/music/art yet the artists/poets/musicians were often reactionary, even racist and fascist.

    T S Elliot’s the Wastelands is a case in point. Dylan went to the right. Salvador Dalli, Jack London.

    A piece of art/music etc. once it has been completed is fixed. It is the product of unknown impulses, often to the artist. We should not subscribe to the stalinist concept of art!

    • irishmoses
      May 24, 2017, 12:57 pm


    • jd65
      May 24, 2017, 4:03 pm

      @ Tony G.:

      I agree w/ a lot of what you write. Particularly separating the art from the artist. But at the same time, even if one understands, or holds the opinion, that a particular artist’s work, or a single piece of artwork, is great as a work of art, it doesn’t follow that one should be able to, or be obligated to, support/enjoy that work of art (yes, that/this was a very, very, long/rough/ungrammatical sentence…). Nor does it mean that one should not point out to others the issues/problems one has w/ that particular artist. Artists should never be able to hide behind the “But I’m/he’s an artist” defense for personal behaviors or attitudes that have nothing to do w/ art. Artworks are not more important than people. I’m not saying you that you’re saying that, Tony. But I just wanted to put it in black and white as it’s an issue I’ve put a lot of thought into and have actually written a little bit about. Thinking an artist is a genius, and not being able to enjoy that artist’s work because of issues you have w/ that artist as a human being, are, unfortunately, not mutually exclusive impulses. Keith Jarrett, anyone? :)

  3. Elizabeth Block
    May 24, 2017, 9:42 am

    I’ve set myself a task: to write new words to Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. I can’t sing it , but the tune is too good to lose (and Naomi Shemer didn’t exactly write it, she adapted it from a Basque folk tune).

    • objak
      May 25, 2017, 3:39 am

      Yes? First I have heard that (about the Basque tune). Interesting.

  4. echinococcus
    May 24, 2017, 10:03 am

    Why so surprised? We already knew at the time that the guy was a committed Zionist. His 1973 military stint was well publicized. Even though I never had any use for his kind of music, by the mid-seventies his militant Zionism was well-known well outside the circle of people who listen to this type of songs.

  5. John O
    May 24, 2017, 1:02 pm

    I guess if you insist that an artist must be a moral paragon, you wouldn’t read, look at or listen to very many people at all.

    Just among the classical composers: Gesualdo – murderer; Wagner – anti-Semite; Janacek – wife-beater; Johann Strauss the elder – just plain nasty.

    That said, I went off Cohen quite a lot after reading a biography of him a couple of years ago. Now, I know the biographer may have been biased, and even unfair (think of the hatchet jobs Albert Goldman did on John Lennon and Elvis Presley), but the way he treated Marianne Ihlen seems to have been appalling.

  6. lyn117
    May 24, 2017, 1:11 pm

    At the time, he probably was unaware of the ethnic cleansing. Most of us weren’t aware in 1967. It was, and is, easy to get caught up in pseudo-religious fervor.

    On what was probably his last tour in Israel, I emailed him to beg him to boycott. He didn’t do so, but tried to set up a concert in Palestine. Failing that, he donated the funds to a foundation dedicated to reconciliation and peace (which now appears to be defunct). I like to think that if he’d been born a generation or two later, he might have been more of an anti-zionist. However, he wasn’t, and as much as I love his music, I have to regard him as one of the “bad guys” who won.

  7. eljay
    May 24, 2017, 1:52 pm

    Leonard Cohen and his “Moment of Truth”

    … Leonard Cohen acted like the Jew he was. He proudly wore his Judaism on his sleeve. … one of the biggest tenants [sic] of Judaism is that actions speak louder than words. … Ones [sic] true nature comes out in times of crisis. …

    It’s a shame to know that Mr. Cohen’s true nature and his Judaism were defined by the belief that people who choose to be/come Jewish are entitled to do terrorism, theft, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, oppression, torture and murder all for the glory of Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine.

  8. Mooser
    May 24, 2017, 2:02 pm

    Leonard Cohen? He never touched my perfect body with his mind.

    • John O
      May 24, 2017, 3:13 pm

      Oh, yes, he did!

      • MHughes976
        May 24, 2017, 4:08 pm

        Cohen changed the lyrics sometimes – and even the original lyrics are ambivalent enough to be a critique as well an endorsement of Z.

      • Mooser
        May 24, 2017, 5:00 pm

        “Oh, yes he did”

        Nope, no way. Not even if he gave me tea and oranges which came all the way from China.

    • gamal
      May 24, 2017, 5:12 pm

      or gave you orange presidents all the way from Riga

      • Cazador
        May 29, 2017, 8:35 pm

        Not bad at all, your comment that is, not the Agent Orange Prez.

  9. jon s
    May 24, 2017, 3:46 pm

    Halleluyah is a beautiful song and is not the “anthem of Jewish exclusivists”.

    “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin “- now there’s a Zionist plot for you!

    • JLewisDickerson
      May 24, 2017, 5:13 pm

      First We Take Manhattan
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_We_Take_Manhattan

      [EXCERPT] “First We Take Manhattan” is a song written by Leonard Cohen. It was originally recorded by Jennifer Warnes on her 1986 Cohen tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat, which consisted entirely of songs written or co-written by Cohen.


      Cohen explained himself in a backstage interview:[1] “I think it means exactly what it says. It is a terrorist song. I think it’s a response to terrorism. There’s something about terrorism that I’ve always admired. The fact that there are no alibis or no compromises. That position is always very attractive. I don’t like it when it’s manifested on the physical plane – I don’t really enjoy the terrorist activities – but Psychic Terrorism. I remember there was a great poem by Irving Layton that I once read, I’ll give you a paraphrase of it. It was ‘well, you guys blow up an occasional airline and kill a few children here and there’, he says. ‘But our terrorists, Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein. The whole world is still quaking.'” . . .

      “For trying to change the system from within
      I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
      First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

      “I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
      I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
      I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
      First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin . . . “

    • RoHa
      May 24, 2017, 8:27 pm

      I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too. But perhaps not Berlin.

  10. JLewisDickerson
    May 24, 2017, 4:35 pm

    I didn’t realise Leonard Cohen was such a devotee of the Neighborhood Bully!

    P.S. What with the baby boomers beginning to reach old age, “shaky cam” cinematography is very avant-garde!

  11. YoniFalic
    May 24, 2017, 5:20 pm

    Halleluyah was musical background to an important scene in Shrek.

    • eljay
      May 24, 2017, 8:49 pm

      || YoniFalic: Halleluyah was musical background to an important scene in Shrek. ||

      Love that scene.

  12. YoniFalic
    May 24, 2017, 5:34 pm

    BTW, a Quebecois woman with whom I work told me that the Quebecois despise Leonard Cohen for distorting the meaning of Un Canadien errant, which appeared in 1842.

    The version Un Acadien Errant appeared in 1844.

    It is supposed to be a song of French Canadian patriotism.

    • lonely rico
      May 25, 2017, 12:16 pm


      the Quebecois despise Leonard Cohen for distorting the meaning of Un Canadien errant

      This anthem to the rebels of Lower Canada (Québec 1837-38), many of whom were hung by the British military, hundreds of others forced into exile, mostly to the USA. Québecois at that time referred to themselves as « Canadiens ».

      Acadians, who had been deported (10,000 +) by the British from Nova Scotia in 1755-65, adopted the song as their own, as Un Acadien errant. Many Acadians ended their exile in Louisiana, others as far away as Australia and South Africa.

      The song has been covered by many artists in English Canada.

      Cohen’s version is particularly cringe-making.

      By the time of his death late last year, Cohen had been largely accepted by most Québecois, who respected his status as an international artist, a Montréaler seemingly proud of his Québec roots, who spoke decent French.

      I personally wrote Cohen in 2009, imploring him to cancel his upcoming concert in Israel.
      Surprisingly, he ignored my request.

    • Cazador
      May 29, 2017, 8:46 pm

      The tune on video, by Nana Mouskouri:

      The lyrics, although they differ from the version sung:

      Un Canadien Errant (A wandering Canadian, )
      Banni de ses foyers, (banned from his hearths, )
      Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
      Des pays etrangers. (in foreign lands.)
      Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
      Des pays etrangers. (in foreign lands.)

      Un jour, triste et pensif, (One day, sad and pensive, )
      Assis au bord des flots, (sitting by the flowing waters, )
      Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
      Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)
      Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
      Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)

      “Si tu vois mon pays, (If you see my country, )
      Mon pays malheureux, (my unhappy country, )
      Va dire a mes amis (go tell my friends)
      Que je me souviens d’eux. (that I remember them.)
      Va dire a mes amis (go tell my friends)
      Que je me souviens d’eux. (that I remember them.)

      O jours si pleins d’appas, (O days so full of charms, )
      Vous etes disparus… (you have vanished…)
      Et ma patrie, helas! (And my native land, alas!)
      Je ne la verrai plus. (I will see it no more.)
      Et ma patrie, helas! (And my native land, alas!)
      Je ne la verrai plus. (I will see it no more.)

      Paroliers : Leonard Cohen / M.A. Gerlin Lajole
      Paroles de The Lost Canadian © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

  13. John Salisbury
    May 24, 2017, 6:52 pm


    Worth reading again. Preferable to Cohen’s tribal indulgence

    • yonah fredman
      May 24, 2017, 8:17 pm

      I agree that Phil Weiss’s article explaining himself as an ex Jew is a perfect companion piece to his attitude towards Leonard Cohen. And the theme seems to be: the only good Jew is an ex Jew.

      • objak
        May 25, 2017, 3:48 am

        In which article did Phil Weiss explain himself an “ex-jew”?

      • eljay
        May 25, 2017, 7:29 am

        || yonah fredman: I agree that Phil Weiss’s article explaining himself as an ex Jew is a perfect companion piece to his attitude towards Leonard Cohen. And the theme seems to be: the only good Jew is an ex Jew. ||

        The Zionist theme is: The only good Jew is one who believes that the religion-based identity of Jewish grants to people who choose to be/come Jewish…
        – an entitlement to a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine; and
        – the right to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others to unto them.

        It’s better to be a moral person (ex-Jew or otherwise) than to be the Zionist ideal of a “good Jew”.

      • yonah fredman
        May 25, 2017, 1:30 pm

        Objak- John Salisbury linked to the article. Read it and apply brain cells and you will see what I mean.

      • Mooser
        May 25, 2017, 5:33 pm

        “And the theme seems to be: the only good Jew is an ex Jew

        So, what are the consequences of being an “ex-Jew”? What happens to a person who becomes an “ex-Jew” in your judgement “Yonah”?

      • objak
        May 25, 2017, 7:59 pm

        Yonah, I read it. Its a well written account of his travels to a space that is indeed post-identitarian which you call ex-Jewish.

        I’m somewhere there too, though less so than Phil.

      • Mooser
        May 25, 2017, 9:28 pm

        I don’t know. If we can’t even define what a Jew is, I don’t see how we can tell what an ex-Jew is.

      • RoHa
        May 26, 2017, 12:14 am

        Mooser, that seems to imply that we can’t tell who isn’t a Jew. And that raises the possibility that I might be a Jew! Maybe I can make aliyah, and go and push Palestinians off their land.

        Suddenly Zionism doesn’t seem so bad any more.

        But wait! If I could be a Jew, so could those Palestinians, and then pushing them off their land would be a breach of tribal solidarity. Real Jews would never do that.

        So I’ll carry on thinking I’m not a Jew for the moment. Unless a better offer comes up.

      • echinococcus
        May 26, 2017, 3:19 am


        I’m perplexed and I need a guide: the religious Jews, the Zionists, and the non-religious tribals all call “Jewish” anyone biologically Jewish, ie with a Jewish mother. This is at the very basis of the Jewish peoplehood nonsense, which is at the basis of Zionism. So far so good, I mean we’ve known this for ages. With the result that declaring you have nothing to do with them is no use: they continue to claim control over your person, say that you hate yourself, etc.

        But now we have this same tribal and Zionist bunch un-Jewing biologically very Jewish people with a flick of the pen… is there a way to have some logic somewhere, please?

        Somehow I remember the Mafia myth in Hollywood movies: you can’t quit –we’ll get you out six feet under.

      • eljay
        May 26, 2017, 9:00 am

        || RoHa: Mooser, that seems to imply that we can’t tell who isn’t a Jew. And that raises the possibility that I might be a Jew! … ||

        If you were a Jew, you’d be one of those self-loathing Jews who advocates assimilation and relinquishes his Jewish identity, so you’d be no further ahead than you are now. ;-)

      • Mooser
        May 26, 2017, 1:04 pm

        “Mooser, that seems to imply that we can’t tell who isn’t a Jew. And that raises the possibility that I might be a Jew!”

        Hooray! At long last, you get it. So ess, bench, sei a mensch, and stop all this nonsense about moving to Israel.

        “Unless a better offer comes up.”

        You’ll always get one from me. You can be as Jew or not as you want to.

      • Mooser
        May 26, 2017, 1:09 pm

        “I’m perplexed and I need a guide…”

        It’s pretty simple. Jewish identity has an awful lot to do, maybe more, with how non-Jews see and identify Jews than how Jews do.
        Nobody seems to want to admit there’s anybody besides Jews involved in the transaction.

      • echinococcus
        May 27, 2017, 8:47 am


        Jewish identity has an awful lot to do, maybe more, with how non-Jews see and identify Jews than how Jews do. Nobody seems to want to admit there’s anybody besides Jews involved in the transaction

        Ho-kay, as some other commenter would have said. So that’s why the definition of “Jewish” according to Zionist practice is practically the same as the Nazi one. Why, it’s like directly out of Rosenberg’s racial guidelines!

        Makes one think about the proverbial two sides of the same medal, doesn’t it?

      • Mooser
        May 27, 2017, 5:56 pm

        “Why, it’s like directly out of Rosenberg’s racial guidelines!”

        Oh yes, him. He was always stressing “racial guidelines” and saying “You can’t decide people are Jewish just by the last name. No, really, the name means nothing, nothing, do you hear me! DON’T GO BY THE LAST NAME, damn it”

  14. [email protected]
    May 24, 2017, 6:54 pm

    Love the music of Leonard Cohen, and I love the music of Richard Strauss. Bigots can write some good stuff. I only wonder about Scott Baio and Ted Nungent aligning with Trump. I mean in the old days histories deplorables had good tunes and we don’t even have that anymore.

  15. Stephen Shenfield
    May 24, 2017, 7:01 pm

    Many of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are genuinely left-radical. For examples listen to his “Democracy is Coming to the USA” or “Everyone Knows.” He was PEP (progressive except for Palestine).

    • yonah fredman
      May 24, 2017, 8:31 pm

      Stephen- Was there any Jewish icon who reacted (to the Yom Kippur War) in a fashion which would meet with your approval? I suppose Noam Chomsky.

      The song Hallelujah (the Jeff Buckley version is included in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Rock songs of all time) contains multiple Biblical allusions, including of course King David, hero to Jewish nationalists and appropriate to the Tower of David right within the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem.

      As Jewish Americans shed their Jewishness, they will have less in common with the actual generations (generators) that came before. I view it as a cutting off of their roots, but of course roots can sometimes interfere with other elements in the environment. I consider roots to be a very important aspect of life. I live in Brooklyn where someone like me with American roots since 1920 to 1940 is practically a Mayflower American. Roots, a very recent past, is part and parcel of the Brooklyn experience.

      It is great that the future is so wide open for many of those who eschew roots. It is no coincidence that America accomplished its ethnic cleansing hundreds of years ago, erasing the roots of the native indigenous, so therefore the rootlessness of white Americans or Jews who shed their roots in order to adopt the rootlessness of white America, doesn’t really impress me.

      • oldgeezer
        May 24, 2017, 11:37 pm


        Your roots are pure fiction. It is like me claiming Ivanhoe as mine.

        You aren’t stupid. Get a grip. It’s 2017.

      • Mooser
        May 25, 2017, 5:39 pm

        ‘Another case, my dear Watson, which can be solved by noting how much time in took the parsing to sink into the blubber.’

      • Mooser
        May 26, 2017, 3:14 pm

        “to adopt the rootlessness of white America,”

        “Rootlessness”? I prefer to think of it as drift.

    • gamal
      May 24, 2017, 8:41 pm

      “He was PEP (progressive except for Palestine).”

      yes progressive is some cheap worthless shit, Cohen was a fine artist, like cummings, no politics worth worrying about.

      • Citizen
        May 25, 2017, 4:02 am

        And Ezra Pound? Leni Riefenstahl?

  16. Atlantaiconoclast
    May 24, 2017, 8:42 pm

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz38Vxkyow4 I LOVE this Roberta Flack cover of a Leonard Cohen song. So beautiful.

    Had no idea he was a Jewish nationalist. Disappointing, but not surprising.

    But somehow, I doubt that anyone would praise a White nationalist like David Duke even if he too had a cannon of beautiful music.

    • objak
      May 25, 2017, 3:42 am

      Wagner does just fine. If David Duke had a prodigious talent besides finding the Jew behind every bad thing that ever afflicted humanity that would probably last too, as it probably should given the moral louts who have nonetheless enriched art.

    • Mooser
      May 25, 2017, 5:47 pm

      “But somehow, I doubt that anyone would praise a White nationalist like David Duke even if he too had a cannon of beautiful music.”

      David Duke has Trompettes en Chamade? Who knew?

  17. shaun patrick
    May 24, 2017, 10:15 pm

    I’m saddened that the beautiful song Hallelujah was hijacked in this way. The word Hallelujah means “God be Praised” and to voice it by a group whose creed is racism, intolerance and hate demeans both the song and meaning of its name. I remember K D Lang singing Hallelujah at the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics and the message was the opposite one of peace and tolerance a message I am sure that Cohen would heartily approve off.

  18. echinococcus
    May 25, 2017, 1:24 am

    Meanwhile, one keeps discovering new rules of MW moderation.
    The last one seems to be: no negativity about crooners or their doggerels, especially if made into some kind of political anthem.
    Except, of course, if there is a new message-eating glitch.

    • Mooser
      May 25, 2017, 5:51 pm

      “one keeps discovering new rules of MW moderation.”

      The first rule of Moderation is: ‘Don’t talk about Moderation’.

      • echinococcus
        May 26, 2017, 10:06 am


        Do you mean, don’t talk about it… like the occupation?

  19. Kathleen
    May 25, 2017, 11:35 pm

    I loved this last interview with Cohen…David Remnick interviewed him just months before he passed, Clearly he had some serious blind spots when it came to Israel

    At a concert in Israel he dropped some acid> He said the “entire audience “turned into “one Jew”.

    Great piece.

    • Kathleen
      May 25, 2017, 11:53 pm

      He describes spending lots of time at a Zen Buddhist monastery outside of LA. Describes the monastery like a boot camp where you learned to “basically stop whining”

  20. Mayhem
    May 26, 2017, 10:10 am

    Maybe I can strike a deal here. I can get rid of my Pink Floyd albums in exchange for copies of Leonard Cohen’s records.

  21. Henry Norr
    May 27, 2017, 5:42 pm

    The Forward has an interesting response to this post, entitled “Was Leonard Cohen a Zionist?,” at

    Author Matthew Gindin doesn’t question that the Zionists have made “Hallelujah” one of their anthems but he says it’s “rubbish” to claim that Cohen would have approved. While acknowledging that Cohen had “a strong emotional connection to his Jewish heritage” and “expressed his fundamental solidarity with the Jewish people numerous times,” Gindin contends that “that solidarity cannot be translated into a simplistic Zionism without doing violence to Cohen’s character.”

    Among other bits of historical evidence, he notes that in 1974 Cohen explained that his song “Lover, Lover, Lover” was “written in the Sinai desert for soldiers of both sides.” Likewise, he billed a 2009 performance in Israel as “a “Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace”, and not a “Concert for the Eternal Homeland of the Jewish People,”” and “donated all of the proceeds to Israeli and Palestinian organizations working for peace.” When criticized by the BDS proponents, “Cohen responded by adding a second night in Ramallah, on the West Bank. Amnesty International and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club pulled out, however, and Cohen created a charitable fund to distribute the two million dollars in concert revenue to groups working for peace in the region.”

    Most compelling to me are passages Gindin quotes from a poem included in Cohen’s 1984 collection “Book of Mercy”:

    Israel, and you who call yourself Israel, the Church that calls itself Israel, and the revolt that calls itself Israel, and every nation chosen to be a nation — none of these lands is yours, all of you are thieves of holiness, all of you at war with Mercy.

    The Covenant is broken, the condition is dishonored, have you not noticed that the world has been taken away? You have no place, you will wander through yourselves from generation to generation without a thread. Therefore you rule over chaos, you hoist your flags with no authority, and the heart that is still alive hates you, and the remnant of Mercy is ashamed to look at you. You decompose behind your flimsy army, your stench alarms you, your panic strikes at love. The land is not yours, the land has been taken back, your shrines fall through open air, your tablets are quickly revised, you bow down in hell beside your hired torturers, and still count your battalions and crank out your marching songs. Your righteous enemy is listening. He hears your anthems full of blood and vanity, and your children singing to themselves. He has overturned the vehicle of nationhood, he has spilled the precious cargo, and every nation he has taken back.”

    (That’s most of the poem – really a meditation, I’d say – but if you want to read the whole thing, it’s at http://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=9765 )

    Nothing in Gindin’s piece suggests that the answer to the question in his title was “No,” but he makes a persuasive case that Cohen didn’t fully share the militant Jewish tribalism on display in the streets of Jerusalem this month.

    • echinococcus
      May 27, 2017, 7:34 pm


      Interesting way the Forward has of churning propaganda and BS. Of course he was a “liberal” and a Zionist, and he did serenade no one lesser than Sharon the Big Pig himself. As for the difference between
      full “militant Jewish tribalism” and the partial version of it, please. What’s the difference in the determination to keep the robbery and the genocide going?

    • Richard Lightbown
      May 28, 2017, 10:28 am

      Cohen may well have described his Tel Aviv concert as a “Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace” just as Israeli leaders have described repeated homicidal attacks on Gaza as “self defence”. I don’t happen to believe there is a jot of truth in either statement.

      Incidentally it was Amnesty USA which was daft enough to agree to become a fig leaf for this concert supporting the population responsible for one of the world’s longest-running and most vicious occupations, and it was probably the lobby to Amnesty International in London which resulted in this fig leaf being pulled. If Cohen had been genuine in his desire to make a statement for peace (rather than show support for the Zionist state of Israel) he would have attempted to have organized both concerts from the start, making the one conditional on the other going ahead. (And hey, how about having the Palestinian concert in Gaza?) As it was the Ramallah concert was an afterthought following criticism of his scabbing in Israel. As such the line about reconciliation, tolerance and peace was never credible.

      Gindin has no place speaking about what Cohen would or would not have approved (at least not without he shows his Ouija board transcripts). What is beyond doubt is that Cohen sang about partisans and plenty of allusions to human rights that made people like me feel good about his music. He seemed to be recording the truth with such lines as “Everybody knows the war is over. Everybody knows the good guys lost.” He seemed to care about what he was writing. For him to then go and play Tel Aviv was like an April Fool joke in the very worst possible taste. Since then his music has seemed to me like a bottle of very fine wine that has gone sour: it has less value than the very cheapest supermarket table wine. That’s why I gave my compilation CD to a charity shop: I could no longer find any solace in his bogus sentiments.

  22. Kate
    June 24, 2017, 12:27 pm

    I have avoided reading this for some time. And now that I have read it, I am going to forget it. I am nuts about Leonard Cohen’s music, and Hallelujah is my favorite song in the word. I miss him and all the music he could have written if he’d lived longer. So is this denial? Who cares, that’s the way it is.

    • gamal
      June 24, 2017, 1:01 pm

      “all the music he could have written if he’d lived longer” fair enough but we should be content with what he did write

      ” So is this denial? Who cares” yes, do not let the superego nag you, no need to deny because

      , “that’s the way it is” yes Sista, that’s so life affirming, and there is always room for a little Lou Reed, win-win-win and then we all end up at Zappa.

    • Mooser
      June 24, 2017, 1:09 pm

      “So is this denial? Who cares, that’s the way it is”

      He must have touched your perfect body with his mind.

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