Yesterday, Israeli poet Yonatan Geffen published a poem on Instagram dedicated to the courage of Ahed al-Tamimi. It was a simple poem, not even terribly controversial at first glance. But oh did it rankle the Israeli far right. Avigdor Lieberman in highest dudgeon, immediately called for Geffen and his poetry to be banned from the only media outlet over which he has any control, Army Radio. He even gratuitously called Geffen a “drunk.” Although any self-respecting hard-drinking Russian who calls another man a drunk as an insult ought to take a look at his own habits first. Lieberman also demanded that Geffen himself be banned from on-air interviews:
The 17 year-old girl did something ‘terrible’
When the proud Israeli officer
Invaded her home once more,
She slapped him in the face.
She was born into this [Occupation] and in her slap
Were fifty years of Occupation and humiliation.
And on the day when the story of the battle will be told
You, red-haired Ahed [al] Tamimi,
Like David who slapped Goliath
Will be in the same company
As Joan of Arc, Hannah Senesh and Anne Frank.
Ah yes, comparing a histrionic Palestinian child who strikes at the heart of Israeli manhoood to the likes of Hannah Senesh and Joan of Arc…that will land you in hot water in today’s Israel.
Really, it’s a fairly innocuous song. But it raises the hackles of Israeli patriot-enforcers, who attempt to extract their pound of flesh from the poor victim. You cannot stray from the national consensus without paying a price. Solidarity is demanded. Deviance will be punished. Chances are Geffen will apologize and return to the straight and narrow Israeli path and never stray from it again.
This is not the first time Geffen has run afoul of the Israeli thought-police. In 2015, an unknown assailant attempted to beat the crap out of him (a standard Israeli way to handle ideological disputes) for opposing Netanyahu’s re-election.
The Israeli attorney general responded to Lieberman: not so fast:
“The legal authority to determine the content that the station will broadcast is reserved for the professional employees of the station,” the statement read. “Of course, these statements do not legitimize the content of [Geffen’s] outrageous remarks.”
Liberman then hit back at the attorney-general, saying “I am guided by the law of common sense, which transcends any bureaucratic directive.” Liberman said he “rejected outright the position of the attorney-general.” In response, early Tuesday evening, Mandelblit sent an official letter to Liberman reminding him that he does not get to decide which laws to follow. “Needless to say,” he wrote, “the legal opinion of the attorney-general regarding this law is binding.”
Something similar happened to Chava Alberstein, who wrote a beautiful song ostensibly about the mythical goat in the Passover song, Had Gadya. It was actually a sly, devastating attack on Israeli Occupation. For her troubles, she was banned from Israeli media for a decade and went into self-chosen exile.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.