Understanding Yehonatan Geffen

I am trying to understand Yehonatan Geffen.

Geffen is an icon of Israeli culture. The nephew of Moshe Dayan, he is a poet, playwright, author, performer and journalist. He wrote the children’s song, “The prettiest girl in the kindergarten,” which remains enormously popular with Israelis of all ages (listen to it here). His music is heard regularly on the radio. I find it pleasant and peaceful.

Like most Israelis in art, literature, media and performing arts, Geffen is politically left-wing. Some people say that this is because the artistic/literary/performing establishment is not kind to those with divergent views, and there is some truth to this.

Anyway, I expect it and am not surprised when an artist or writer denounces “the occupation” or thinks that Netanyahu is a fascist dictator who prefers war to peace or that “settlers” are not human. That’s normal these days.

But Geffen has gone far beyond normal. In a poem posted on his Instagram account, Geffen wrote,

A pretty girl of 17 did an awful thing
And when a proud Israeli officer
Invaded her home again
She gave him a slap.
She was born for this and in that slap
Were fifty years of occupation and humiliation.
And on the day that they tell the story of the struggle
You, Ahed Tamimi,
Red-haired,
Like David who slapped Goliath,
You will be on the same page as
Joan of Arc, Hannah Senesh and Anne Frank. (my translation)

Ahed Tamimi lives in the village of Nabi Saleh, about 20 km north of Ramallah. Since 2009, Nabi Saleh has been the scene of weekly demonstrations (sometimes riots) by townspeople and activists, against a nearby Jewish community that they claim has appropriated land belonging to Nabi Saleh. The Tamimi family – the father Bassem, mother Nariman, Ahed and her brothers, sisters and cousins all take part. Ahed’s specialty is cursing, hitting, kicking, and biting Israeli soldiers while the cameras of the international media carefully focus on the fracas, in hopes that a soldier will lose his temper or even raise his hand to defend himself, at which point the (carefully edited) video will be proof of IDF brutality (of course, if the soldiers do nothing, it’s proof of their cowardice).

Ahed has been doing this for almost a decade, earning the nickname “Shirley Temper.” It’s part of the information war, the campaign of cognitive warfare against the Jewish state to delegitimize and demonize Israel in order to make her ultimate physical destruction easier. The Tamimis are soldiers in this war.

The family’s activism ranges from propaganda to mass murder. Although Ahed has never seriously harmed anyone (yet), her Uncle Nizar and Aunt Ahlam have both been convicted of murdering Israelis. Ahlam masterminded and participated in the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem in 2001, in which 15 people (7 of them children) were murdered. Although she received 16 life sentences, she was released in 2011 as part of the ransom for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. She now lives in Jordan with Nizar (a second cousin, also released from prison in the Shalit deal) where she has a career as a TV personality. She is currently the subject of an extradition request by the US, since several of her victims were American citizens.

Ahed has been allowed to curse, slap, punch, kick and bite to her heart’s content for years, but apparently Israeli officials finally had enough. This month, after the famous slap, she was arrested and indicted for “aggravated assault, hindering a soldier in the line of duty, incitement, threatening a soldier’s life and stone-throwing.” Naturally, this immediately gave rise to a massive worldwide campaign to “free Ahed Tamimi.” One wonders what would happen if a 17-year old in any other country, including the US or Canada, behaved like her.

Ahed has enlisted herself (or been enlisted by her parents) as a soldier for the Palestinian Cause, which is to put an end to the Jewish state and drive the Jews out of the land of Israel. This is not a noble cause. Like the Nazi cause that took the lives of Hannah Senesh and Anne Frank, it aspires to the destruction of a people, which is objectively evil. There is no similarity between the Zionist aspiration for a Jewish state where the civil rights of non-Jews will be respected, and the Palestinian aspiration to kill and disperse the Jews from Israel.

But Yehonatan Geffen goes even farther than the usual left-wing trope of a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. By comparing Ahed Tamimi to Hannah Senesh and Anne Frank, he is – quite explicitly – saying that Israel is comparable to the Nazi regime. By comparing her to Joan of Arc he is suggesting that the arrest of a juvenile delinquent is comparable to burning a woman at the stake.

This isn’t merely leftist politics, it’s pathological hatred for a country that, by the way, has been very kind to Geffen and made it possible for him to live, and live well, as a poet and a dissident.

Geffen’s hatred for his country boils over into expression that is more pungent than that of our physical enemies. We expect what we get from Hamas – after all, they launch rockets to kill us, too – but it is always a shock to hear from a Jew that we are Nazis. It’s impossible to get used to. How can he not know that he is inverting reality?

I don’t understand how a person who could write beautiful songs for children and even a touching poem about a street cat (Hebrew video link) could be so cruel to his own people – and how he could join the demonization campaign led by our enemies, the true heirs of the Nazis.

I don’t have a good answer, but here are a couple of theories. Possibly artists who have a powerful ability to empathize – with kindergartners and cats, for example – can too easily be overwhelmed by emotion. The political and the personal can come together. Their feelings overflow and they lose their common sense – common sense that should tell them that while they wish we were not occupying Judea and Samaria, we are not doing it in order to commit Nazi-like genocide on the Palestinians.

It is also true that as creative people they are used to creating alternate realities. What else does a poet or playwright do? Then perhaps they can become confused about which one is the real world. And of course they live in the parallel universe of the intellectual and artistic class in which everything they hear from their friends and read in Ha’aretz competes to present the most extreme picture.

Whatever. But it would be best for him to retire from public life now. He can spend his spare time helping the Russian ladies who feed the street cats.

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One Response to Understanding Yehonatan Geffen

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This presentation is fair and perhaps a bit over- generous to Yehonatan Geffen.
    It perhaps does not reflect the kind of anger and insult I expect many people feel about his shameful and disgusting whitewash and idolization of a criminal enemy of his own people.
    The whole question of privileged and even truly talented privileged people whose hatred for their own country seems truly pathological has so far as I know never been fully explored and analyzed.

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