Ramle to name square after legendary singer despite his rape conviction

In protest, city council member says she admires music of ‘king of Mizrahi’ Zohar Argov ‘but what about respecting the women and girls who experienced sexual assault and rape?’

Zohar Argov (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Zohar Argov (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The central city of Ramle on Thursday will hold a ceremony to name a square after the late singer Zohar Argov, who is hailed as the king of Mizrahi music but also remembered for his conviction on rape charges.

Mayor Michael Vidal announced the move last year, prompting criticism from some Ramle residents and women’s rights activists.

“How can you name a square after someone who was convicted and imprisoned for rape and didn’t express remorse for his actions?” Rotem Cohen Kahlon, a member of Ramle’s city council, told Channel 12 news on Wednesday.

Cohen Kahlon said she had protested the proposal when it was introduced and instead suggested naming the square after one of his songs, in a bid to memorialize Argov’s music rather than the singer himself.

“I respect and admire the cultural legacy he left, but what about respecting the women and girls who experienced sexual assault and rape,” she said.

Local activist Menashe Mordechai also criticized the name after the ceremony was announced Wednesday.

“Is this the legacy that we want to teach the next generations?” he said.

בוחרים ומשפיעים!אני שמח לשתף אתכם בבחירת עיצוב הכיכר החדשה בצומת שושנה דמרי – עוזי חיטמן ע״ש הזמר???? זוהר ארגוב ז״ל,…

Posted by ‎מיכאל וידל – הדף הרשמי‎ on Thursday, October 29, 2020

Despite the opposition, Vidal has defended the decision to name the square after Zohar, arguing in an interview last year the move enjoyed local support.

“I want the young generation to be exposed to his inappropriate actions because I disagree with them and am totally against them, but we want his tremendous musical contribution to be taught to the youth and that they know not to do anything like the things he did,” Vidal told the Ynet news site.

Other cities have rejected past proposals to name streets after Argov.

Argov was born as Zohar Orkabi in 1955, the oldest of 10 children in 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 heroin. 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 a year in prison in the mid-1980s.

In November 1987, Argov was again charged with rape, and on the morning of November 7, he died by 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 he was being treated for his addiction.

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