Israeli rock star praises ‘brother’ settlers as he recants past views in move to right

Ben Lynfield

The Guardian  /  August 29, 2022

Ex-peace figure Aviv Geffen sparks controversy with public repentance at concert in occupied West Bank.

The Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen, once a symbol of the country’s peace movement, has sparked controversy by apologizing for his past views during a concert at a fervently nationalistic settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The public repentance on Thursday at the Beit El settlement can be seen as a cultural milestone in Israel’s move further to the right and another nail in the coffin of the more peace-oriented legacy of the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, with whom Geffen had been associated.

Geffen indicated to the settlers that he had undergone a process of personal transformation that had “opened my eyes”, and that he had previously been “ignorant”.

“I was trying to ingratiate myself to my fans,” Geffen told his audience, referring among other things to attacks he had made on settlers during interviews over the years. “I spoke out of ignorance and belittlement of the other. As I have matured, I’m very sorry about it. I learned a lot of things and I am here out of love and unity.”

Referring to settlers as “brothers”, he singled out the hard-right, pro-settler interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, as having helped him open up to new people and viewpoints.

As part of his new direction, Geffen appeared on Sunday night in Kedumim, another hardline settlement, for a joint concert with Avraham Fried, a favourite performer of the ideological settlers who believe the West Bank – or as they call it, Judea and Samaria – is a Jewish entitlement from God and that territorial compromise with the Palestinians negates the process of the coming of the messiah.

Geffen was previously known as a strident secularist but started appearing with Fried over the last year and also voiced interest in Judaism and meeting rabbis, according to Dudi Patimer, the host of a music show on Israel’s 103FM radio station. At the Beit El concert he wore a skullcap as a sign of religious observance.

Israel has swung so far to the right since the Rabin era that the word peace is avoided by politicians, and settlers have become mainstream.

Patimer said he believed Geffen’s statements made sense in career terms. “People do mature and change but I think he also wants to boost his career and broaden his audience,” he said.

Today Israeli singers largely avoid politics in their songs, and if they make public pronouncements they are more along rightwing themes such as needing to fight, Patimer said. “Today if you say we have to withdraw from all of the territories, you will be slaughtered as an artist.”

Geffen did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.

Geffen, 49, who has cited Bob Dylan and Roger Waters as influences, rose to stardom in the 1990s with hits including Shir Tikva (Song of Hope), which has been likened to John Lennon’s Imagine. Other songs disparaged the national anthem and attacked the army, in which he did not serve, as being the “Defence of Death Force” rather than the Israel Defence Force.

Back then the young rock star was on friendly terms with Rabin, the gruff prime minister of the time who shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn and denounced ideological settlements. He said they had no security value, tied down the army and drained taxpayer money.

Geffen performed at the 5 November 1995 peace rally in Tel Aviv right before Rabin was assassinated. The last image many Israelis have of seeing Rabin alive is of him walking up to Geffen and shaking his hand before heading down a flight of stairs and being shot by a settler supporter, Yigal Amir.

Uri Dromi, who served as Rabin’s spokesperson, criticized Geffen’s apology. “Rabin must be turning in his grave. The last thing Rabin would do is fawn to settlers. I’m sure he would have said something harsh about this.”