The Israeli political arena was in a tizzy Tuesday after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would ban the songs of a prominent poet from being played on Army Radio because the poet had compared a Palestinian teenager who was filmed slapping IDF soldiers to Anne Frank.
Opposition members slammed Liberman and branded him a “commissar” for saying he was prohibiting the public radio station from interviewing or playing songs by Yehonatan Geffen. The attorney general quickly weighed in to say the instruction carried no legal weight.
The 70-year-old Geffen on Monday posted on Instagram a photo of Tamimi confronting an IDF soldier, with a poem in Hebrew:
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,
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.”
“The State of Israel will not provide a platform to a drunk who equates a child who perished in the Holocaust, and a brave fighter who battled against the Nazi regime, with the whippersnapper Ahed Tamimi, who assaulted a soldier. Geffen’s headline-chasing is repulsive and outrageous. The right platform for Geffen’s nonsense is Hezbollah’s Al-Manar station,” wrote Liberman.
But Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was quick to point out that Liberman lacks the authority to influence the content of Army Radio in such a manner.
“According to the law, and as has already been previously established by the attorney general, the minister has no legal authority to interfere in the content broadcast by the station,” a statement released by his office said.
Citing the relevant legal clause, Mandelblit said that such authority lies only with the station’s staff, and added that the High Court of Justice had ruled that way as well.
“Of course, nothing in this statement should be seen as lending any legitimacy to the outrageous comments that were said [by Geffen],” he concluded.
Firing back, Liberman dismissed Mandelblit’s statement, claiming that “rules of common sense” took precedence over the law, and implying that the attorney general was not sufficiently piqued by Geffen’s comparison.
“I am guided by the rules of common sense, which stand above any bureaucratic instruction. With all due respect to the attorney general, in this case, I categorically reject his stance. He would be better to condemn Geffen, who debased Jewish history and IDF soldiers. Army Radio is first and foremost a military station and it will not serve as a platform for any Israel-hater lashing out at our soldiers.”
The issue sparked immediate political reactions from across the political spectrum, with opposition members slamming Liberman, while Culture Minister Miri Regev supported and reiterated her fellow minister’s comments.
“Yehonatan Geffen’s outrageous reference to Ahed Tamimi as the equivalent of Hannah Szenes, Anne Frank and King David is part of Geffen’s delusions,” Regev said, adding that Tamimi is a “terrorist.”
“I advise you to go back to your songs, rather than make comparisons of a songwriter devoted to liberating Palestine,” said Regev, calling Geffen’s poem “revolting” and saying it “crosses a red line of someone who is trying to rewrite history.”
Among those who criticized Liberman was MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), who said that “Army Radio is not the defense minister’s private playing field. He has no authority to decide who does or doesn’t appear in public broadcasting, where there is no place for commissars.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who recently announced her candidacy to head the left-wing party, said, “Geffen’s songs and words are such an optimistic, graceful and revolutionary part of Israeli music, and they will remain so even after the violent shutting of microphones by the commissar Liberman will become a forgotten part of history.”