Zohar Argov was the king of Israel’s Mizrahi (Oriental) music, and a real-life rags-to-riches story. He was also a drug addict and a convicted rapist who committed suicide in prison.
But despite Argov’s less than exemplary conduct, his artistic legacy and tremendous contribution to Israeli popular music prompted the committee responsible for naming streets in Herzliya to recommend that the city become the first to name a street after him, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported on Thursday.
In 2007, Rishon Lezion, where Argov was born, and Tel Aviv both rejected proposals to name streets after the singer.
The decision, which still needs to be approved by the Herzliya municipal council, has prompted a torrent of criticism.
Besides Argov’s extensive criminal record and history as a drug addict, opponents also claimed that he had already been immortalized indirectly by a Herzliya street named for one of his popular songs, “Haperah Begani” (The Flower in My Garden).
Argov was born as Zohar Orkabi in 1955, the oldest of 10 children of a religious family of Yemenite extraction. He was one of the first Mizrahi singers to achieve popular and commercial success in a musical scene that had, until then, been dominated by Ashkenazi singers.
Argov’s debut album “Eleanor” was released in 1981, and while his popularity rose, so did his addiction to crack cocaine and to heroine. His contribution to bringing Mizrahi music into the Israeli mainstream caused many to ignore his increasingly erratic behavior. Argov was convicted of rape and served one year in prison in the mid-1980s.
In November 1987, Argov was again charged with rape, and on the morning of November 7, he committed suicide in a jail cell. On the previous night, Argov had appeared on an Israeli television talk show, in which he discussed his drug problems and said that he was being treated for his addiction.
Daniel Galili, one of the Herzliya committee members who supported naming a street after Argov, was quoted in Maariv as saying that he was willing to overlook Argov’s checkered past because he was, in Galili’s words, “Israel’s most important Mizrahi singer.”
Fellow committee member Dror Ezra, however, said that he hoped the city council would vote down the proposal. Despite Argov’s musical legacy, “his past is not simple,” Ezra said, “and it cannot be ignored.”