Senior right-wing Israeli politicians joined singer-songwriter Ariel Zilber in castigating the Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ACUM) for changing the name of the award given to Zilber on Monday night, from “Lifetime Achievement” to “Contributor to Israeli Music,” due to the singer’s extremist political views.
Before accepting the award, which comes with an NIS 35,000 ($10,000) cash prize, Zilber took the stage with singer Mosh Ben-Ari to perform one of his most popular songs. Halfway through, the singer stopped singing to say he felt like “a punching bag” for “interested groups and frustrated artists.”
“The directors of ACUM disconnected the songs from the artist… There is a person behind the songs,” said Zilber during his speech. “You missed the opportunity to be an example of freedom of opinion. I would return the prize, but I cannot turn my back on the love and support I received from the people.”
“I would dismantle ACUM and found a new ACUM that offers a platform for any opinion. I am an Israeli, a Jew, one of you,” he continued.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman lambasted the decision, calling it “a capitulation and dangerous obsequiousness in the face of the Bolshevism of radical left-wing officials.”
“I hope that by this evening, ACUM will come to its senses and revert to their original and correct decision, because you needn’t agree with the opinions of Ariel Zilber in order to oppose this hypocrisy and cowardice,” he wrote earlier Monday on his Facebook page.
Speaking at the weekly Jewish Home faction meeting, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett also opposed the decision, and urged the association to change course since the move “is against every cultural and artistic value.” Bennett also said, referring to ACUM, that “the disgrace is yours; it’s an honor not to receive an honor from you.”
The move to rename the award for Zilber was reportedly in response to pressure by Dalia Rabin, daughter of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who serves as an external director to the association. Zilber has been involved in past years in rallying for the release of Yigal Amir, who assassinated Rabin in 1995. “People like Yigal Amir, who acted out of ideological motives, nobody helps them,” he complained in one TV interview.
“The music of Ariel Zilber is not the problem, on the contrary, he is a gifted artist,” a statement from Rabin’s office read. “However, Zilber’s opinions on minorities, civil rights, and the gay community are problematic and granting a lifetime achievement award is a problematic message to Israeli society.”
The statement said that the decision to change the honor title was reached in a vote by the ACUM board of directors, and that Dalia Rabin did not participate in the vote.
Zilber had a long, successful musical career but in recent years underwent a radical political and religious transformation (becoming affiliated with the Chabad movement), and condemned members of Israel minorities in public statements. He also expressed vocal opposition to the disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
Another key player in the protest over the original award to him was singer Achinoam Nini, who forfeited her ACUM prize after she learned that Zilber was slated to receive an award as well. Nini posted on her Facebook account last week that she would not accept the honor for “ideological reasons,” and requested that the award not be given to anyone else in her stead. Even after the title was revised, Nini stood by her decision not to attend the event.
“I am not calling to boycott the artist Ariel Zilber,” Nini wrote on Facebook. “I hope he takes advantage of the honorable stage and apologizes publicly to the gay community, Arabs, the secular, the Rabin family, the IDF, and the State of Israel.”