Beleaguered poet apologizes for comparing Palestinian protester to Anne Frank

Beleaguered poet apologizes for comparing Palestinian protester to Anne Frank

Yehonathan Geffen says he only wanted to raise awareness about occupation; defense minister, who had sought to ban his songs, declares all is forgiven

Singer and poet Yehonatan Geffen at the EMI, the Israel Artists Association, lifetime achievement awards ceremony, held in Petah Tikva, February 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Singer and poet Yehonatan Geffen at the EMI, the Israel Artists Association, lifetime achievement awards ceremony, held in Petah Tikva, February 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli poet and songwriter Yehonatan Geffen apologized for a poem he wrote comparing a teenage Palestinian activist to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, saying that his sole intention was to raise awareness of the Israeli occupation.

At a small concert on Saturday night, Geffen told the audience, “It was a mistake and I apologize for it, especially to anyone who was personally offended.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had sought to ban Geffen from Army Radio for the comparison between Frank and Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, whose family is known for public protests against the IDF presence in the West Bank. Both men drew criticism for their actions: Liberman for trying to interfere with the programming of a national radio station and Geffen for the comparison.

After media reported Geffen’s apology, Liberman tweeted, “The one who confesses [their sins] and renounces them finds mercy” — a quote from the biblical book of Proverbs.

Screen capture from video of poet Yehonathan Geffen speaking to the audience during a concert in Petah Tikva, January 27, 2018. (Twitter)

At the concert Geffen took a few minutes to speak to the audience about the controversial poem, which led, he said, to media camping outside his home and preventing him from leaving for a week.

“The Palestinians also choose their cultural heroes,” he explained, and added that his intention was to bring Israel’s occupation of the West Bank back into the headlines.

“I wanted to show that just like we create national heroes… the Palestinians are also permitted to create heroes for themselves,” he said. “The mistake that I made was to put on the list Hannah [Szenes] and Anne [Frank], whom no one admires as much as I do… and I apologize for it with all my heart. In the same way, I could have written that Ahed Tamimi is on the same level as Wonder Woman Gal Gadot.”

Asked by a member of the audience why he chose to make his apology at the concert and not in a statement to the media, Geffen lashed out at the press.

“The media are garbage,” he said. “They look for gossip and to paint me as an idiot. I hate them. I have no interest in opening up to the media because they will only distort it, because they are just looking for sensationalism and gossip.”

Sixteen-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi (2-R) attends a hearing at the Ofer military court in the West Bank on January 15, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

“Today, on International Holocaust Memorial Day, I can say it was a mistake and I apologize especially to those who were personally offended,” he said.

The saga began last Monday when Geffen posted the poem comparing Tamimi, who had been jailed for slapping an IDF soldier, to Holocaust icons Frank and Szenesh, along with King David and Joan of Arc.

The 70-year-old Geffen posted the poem on Instagram alongside a photo of Tamimi confronting an IDF soldier:

A pretty 17-year-old girl committed a terrible deed
and when a proud Israeli officer
invaded her house once again
she gave him a slap.
She was born into it and in that slap
were fifty years of occupation and humiliations.
And when the day comes for this struggle’s story to be told,
you, Ahed Tamimi,
the redhead,
like David who slapped Goliath,
will be among the ranks of
Joan of Arc, Hannah Szenes and Anne Frank.

Frank, one of the most famous Holocaust victims, is known for the diary she kept, detailing her life in hiding in Amsterdam between 1942 and 1944, before she was killed by the Nazis. Szenes was one of the Jewish paratroopers who were parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to rescue Hungarian Jews about to be deported to Nazi death camps. She was caught, tortured and executed, and is considered a national heroine in Israel.

Liberman, apparently outraged by the comparison drawn by Geffen, tweeted on Tuesday morning that he had “instructed the commander of Army Radio to stop playing or interviewing Yehonatan Geffen in all the station’s broadcasts,” and that he was “calling on all media outlets in Israel to do the same.”

Liberman’s attempt to blackball Yehonatan Geffen was widely condemned by artists and opposition politicians, who branded the defense minister a “commissar.”

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