The unlikely news outlet of the Wall Street Journal offers a profile of the Israeli-Iranian pop star, Rita Jahanforuz. Rita, as she is known to Israelis was, in the 1980s, a successful singer who eschewed any specific ethnic identity hewing to a pure middle of the road pop approach. But over the past year, she’s embraced her Iranian ethnic origins and incorporated Iranian Farsi-language songs into her act. This career choice was serendipitously timed with political developments and a deterioration of relations between Israel and Iran. The result hasn’t just earned her success among Iranian-Israelis nostalgic for memories of their homeland, it’s also swept the Israeli mainstream as well. In a further ironic twist, Rita’s music has become popular in Iran as well, though a ban on Israeli products means her listeners there must do so in private settings.
Unlike Noa who, along with Israeli Palestinian singer, Mira Awad, brought a saccharine pop song to Eurovision, Rita appears to truly embrace a strong anti-war message:
Rita…has emerged as an unexpected bond between ordinary Iranians and Israelis—part cultural ambassador, part antiwar spokeswoman. A picture of Rita with the banner, “Iranians we will never bomb your country,” is posted on her Facebook page.
“These days, people only know the language of war and violence and hatred,” said Rita, referring to Israelis’ view of the Persian language, during a recent interview in Tel Aviv. After she started receiving emails from Iranian fans, she realized music can “puncture the wall” of tension.
Though the article states that Iranian hardliners thoroughly disapprove of Rita and her pop peace offensive, they might think twice when they read this comment from an Israeli concertgoer:
“Listen, I’m not Persian,” said Meir Kanto, a 72-year-old farmer. “But the culture is so colorful and so beautiful, from my perspective, let them conquer us. It wouldn’t hurt.”
And, the article reports, in Iran the reaction is similarly dovish:
“She is singing from her heart. So what if she is from Israel?” said Manijeh, a 43-year-old relative of the [Iranian] bride who asked that her surname not be published. “We love her.”
I don’t believe, as Noa and Idan Raichel appear to, that music obliterates political difference. It doesn’t. But music that has a political consciousness can pierce the belligerence and make enemies realize that their leaders may be taking them over a cliff and that they should have a say in whether they follow them or not.