Poet and author Yehonatan Geffen is an iconic popular figure in Israeli culture since the 1970’s. I grew up as a toddler on his children’s books, and he has a lot to say to adults today. He is tongue-in-cheek and doesn’t mince his words. The kind of guy who calls out Netanyahu for being a racist.
On Monday, he posted a poem on his Instagram which infuriated Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman so much that Lieberman called for the army radio to ban him and his work completely, also urging all media outlets to do the same.
Let’s have a look at Geffen’s poem. I’ve seen some slightly imprecise translations in Israeli media, including Haaretz, so I’m providing mine, containing just about every word he wrote:
A beautiful 17-year-old girl did a terrible thing
And when a proud Israeli officer
Once again invaded her home
She slapped him
She was born into it and in that slap
Were contained 50 years of occupation and humiliations.
And on the day the story of the struggle is told,
You, Ahed Tamimi,
With red hair,
Like David who slapped Goliath,
Will be mentioned in the same line
As Joan of Arc, Hannah Szenes and Anne Frank.
It is the last line that had apparently infuriated Lieberman most. Apparently not so much the mentioning of Joan of Arc, but more the mentioning of Hannah Szenes (a Palestinian Jew who volunteered to parachute in WW2 Europe in order to save Jews), and Anne Frank:
“The State of Israel should not give a platform to a drunk who compared a girl who was murdered in the Holocaust and a heroine who battled the Nazi regime, to Ahed Tamimi, the bimbo who attacked a soldier”, Lieberman said.
Culture Minister Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev also attacked Geffen, and said, with a somewhat bizarre twist:
“Yehonatan Geffen’s outrageous reference to Ahed Tamimi as comparable to Hannah Szenes, Anne Frank and King David is surely part of Geffen’s delusions.”
Where did King David come from? Part of Regev’s delusions perhaps?
Regev exploited the opportunity in order to call Ahed Tamimi a “terrorist” (as I’ve noted earlier, Israel is seeking to make Ahed a terrorist), saying:
“The ghastly comparison between the heroes of our people’s Holocaust and terrorist Tamimi, on the same week the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is crossing a red line by someone seeking to rewrite history”.
So now Ahed Tamimi is a ‘terrorist-bimbo’, and Geffen is a ‘drunk’ holocaust-revisionist, according to Lieberman and Regev.
But there has to be a limit to cultural censorship in the ‘only democracy’, and even though Lieberman is Defense Minister, there are rules guaranteeing autonomy to the army radio. Thus state attorney Avichai Mandelblit issued an official opinion, by which “the legal authority to determine the content of the station’s broadcasts is only in the hands of its professional officials.” Nonetheless, sidestepping his legal function, Mandelblit joined the chorus of incitement against Geffen (and Tamimi): “The aforementioned opinion should not be taken to legitimize in any manner the content of the outrageous statements made,” he added.
Now, we have to ask Mandelblit: who asked you to hand out opinions about art? Are you now the arbiter of what should or should not be considered ‘outrageous’ poetry? What is the purpose of this irrelevant addition?
The purpose of that addition is incitement. It is the same as when Netanyahu’s Foreign Ministry threw Jewish philanthropist George Soros under the bus, when the latter was being attacked by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last year. Orban, who had recently praised the Nazi-collaborator Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, ran a massive ad campaign against Jewish Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, with anti-Semitic undertones serving an anti-immigrant agenda. At first, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, condemned the billboard campaign, saying it invoked “sad memories but also sows hatred and fear.” But a day later, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem under Netanyahu issued a “clarification,” which states that while Israel deplores anti-Semitism and supports Jewish communities in confronting this hatred, criticism of Soros was legitimate:
“In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself,” the Foreign Ministry stated.
So Mandelblit is ostensibly playing politically correct, but in fact signaling his approval for this cultural censorship of Geffen, in a most shameful way.
Anyhow, Defense Minister Lieberman is not even pretending to accept Mandelblit’s official position (which is legally binding) – Lieberman said he is “rejecting Mandelblit’s opinion out of hand.”
Lieberman is suggesting that Geffen’s expressions are simply an existential danger – to all soldiers, whom it is his duty to protect:
“My role as defense minister is to shield all soldiers—both regular and reserve—who cannot retort to politicians and public figures”, he said.
Lieberman posed that he was simply, and exclusively, guided by common sense:
“My only guide is the law of common sense, which stands above any bureaucratic instruction”, he said.
The suggestion is that Mandelblit has simply lost it.
“With all due respect and admiration, which I do have towards the attorney general”, Lieberman added, “in this instance I reject his position out of hand. He would have been better served denouncing Geffen, who’s desecrating both Jewish history and IDF soldiers. Army Radio is first and foremost a military station, and will not provide a platform for tongue-lashings by some Israel basher or other against our soldiers.”
But the attorney general had in fact denounced Geffen.
And all the furor against Geffen is of course because he showed some understanding for Palstinian pride, dignity and heroism. That makes him an “Israel basher.” Culture Minister Regev added mockingly that he was “a poet determined to liberate Palestine.” It can hardly get any worse in Israeli jargon. Lieberman suggested that “the proper stage for Geffen’s nonsense are broadcasts of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar network.”
And attorney general Mandelblit opines that Geffen’s statements are “outrageous.”
Because, in Israel, you are not allowed to show understanding for Palestinian humanity.