Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has canceled a performance by outspoken government critic Israeli singer Aviv Geffen at the popular torch-lighting ceremony that launches Israel’s Independence Day celebrations, Hebrew-language media reports said Thursday.
But the ministry denied that left-leaning Geffen was dropped from the show and said in a statement that the list of participating artists was still under consideration.
Several weeks ago Geffen was asked by ceremony organizers to sing his song “Journey” in a duet with Sarit Hadad at the event, which kicks off celebrations for Israel’s 70th independence day, Hadashot news said. The song was supposed to symbolize the 70-year journey since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Geffen and Hadad were eager to do the song and had even held meetings with ceremony director Ron Tzhor.
Two weeks ago, though Geffen’s participation was canceled by the ministry. According to a report by Army Radio, no formal reason was given. Geffen has been an outspoken critic of the government and at around the time of the cancellation told the audience at one of his concerts that “the prime minister is a despot who does what he wants.”
It was not clear whether the comment came before or after he was informed that he was dropped from the Independence Day event. Hadad is scheduled to perform the song alone, the report said.
At a January 2017 show, Geffen described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “tyrant.”
In a statement the Culture and Sports Ministry said, “Aviv Geffen’s name was put on the table alongside many other good singers. A decision has still not been made concerning the artists who will sing at the torch-lighting ceremony. Minister Miri Regev didn’t veto Aviv Geffen’s participation in the torch-lighting ceremony.”
The development came amid a public spat between Geffen’s father and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Liberman has sought to ban singer and poet Yehonatan Geffen from Army Radio for a poem he wrote comparing Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi to Anne Frank.
The saga began on Monday when the elder Geffen posted a poem comparing Tamimi, who had been jailed for slapping a soldier, to Holocaust icons Anne Frank and Hannah Szenesh, along with King David and Joan of Arc.
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.
In a Wednesday post to his Facebook page, Aviv Geffen taunted Liberman, writing, “As long as you are defense minister, Haniyeh and my father’s poems can sleep quietly,” an apparent reference to Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh, whom Liberman once vowed to kill within 48 hours of becoming defense minister.
Geffen went on to criticize Liberman for failing to prevent ultra-Orthodox parties from passing legislation that enforces religious restrictions on the general population.
“Instead of fighting against religionization you fight against songs, though unlike the ultra-Orthodox parties, songs don’t hit back,” Geffen wrote.
Referring to Israel’s famous military leader and defense minister Moshe Dayan, whose sister was Geffen’s grandmother, the singer wrote: “He was considered a hero, whereas you are only a hero in words, and when it comes to action then the only thing that you managed to do is to be convicted of hitting a child, which is by the way the closest thing to a citation you’ve reached. (There is no need to clap, Miri.)”
In 2001 Liberman admitted to a Jerusalem court that he had assaulted a 12-year-old boy who had hit his own son.
Liberman responded on Twitter to Geffen, writing: “You are mistaken, Aviv Geffen. I don’t fight songs. I fight lies, I fight the comparison between a terrorist who is exploiting the restraint of IDF soldier and officers, who are striving in the defense of all of us, and Hannah Szenes the hero. And I fight against contempt of the Holocaust.”
The defense minister ended his comment with the phrase “To the glory of the State of Israel” — the traditional proclamation made by each of the torch lighters at the Independence Day ceremony.
Liberman’s attempt to blackball Yehonathan Geffen was widely condemned by artists and opposition politicians, who branded the defense minister a “commissar.”