In the past couple of years, I have noticed that a crucial element of the anti-Zionist strategy is the erasure of Israeli diversity. In order to make the case for sweeping boycotts and general condemnations of an entire country, anti-Israel activists need to pretend that Israel is a single, homogenous entity. They define it as nothing more than its foreign policy and the worst moments of its military history. They label it “European,” erasing not only the tortured history of those Jews who fled to Palestine from a continent that for centuries slaughtered them as foreigners, but also the more than half of Israeli citizens whose immediate ancestors are from Africa and the Middle East. They erase LGBTQIA+ Israelis by dismissing all of their hard-won human rights as a government “pinkwashing” conspiracy. And, more than anything, they erase the Israeli left.
Sha’anan Streett, the lead singer of popular Israeli hip-hop and funk band ha-Dag Nachash, is exactly the kind of progressive, pro-peace, responsible voice that so thoroughly undermines the anti-Israel narrative. Sha’anan came to Brown University earlier this month to speak about both his music (especially his new solo album, “Tova – a Good Project”) and his politics. While his work is known and appreciated by Israelis across the political spectrum, his lyrics have an unambiguously leftist bent, and have since his first song, “Shalom Salaam Peace.” According to him, people still love his music in part because they respect honesty, and his lyrics do not pull any punches.
At Brown, Sha’anan walked us through some of his songs, emphasizing in particular his songs that highlight his leftist leanings. For example, he introduced us to “Shir Nechama,” a classic that forces the listener to face the desensitization of war and implicitly challenges complacent Israelis to wake up and see that the current status quo is unacceptable. And “Shirat HaSticker” is just the sort of work that the anti-Israel movement tries to suppress: it highlights the diversity of opinions within the country on every issue from religious participation in the army to the idea of a two state solution. Essentially, Sha’anan’s presentation showed us that there is an element of Israeli society (and a loud, prominent element at that) that loves Israel and appreciates it, but is still willing to criticize its policies and its government, to urge it to be the best it can be.
One point that Sha’anan emphasized in particular was that Israelis and American Jews should be studying Arabic (he and I were able to converse a bit). In order for Israel to succeed in the Middle East, according to Sha’anan, its people will have to speak the language of its neighbors. He also did not shy away from calling out the prime minister for his fear mongering and the damage he has done to the country.
Pro-Israel activists on college campuses should be bringing in voices like Sha’anan’s more often. Sometimes, I worry, we are too afraid of the headshaking of our more conservative elders to highlight the members of Israeli society whose messages really resonate with us as the liberal, pro-peace, younger generation. It happens that these voices of truth also undermine a crux of the anti-Israel narrative, by proving the existence of an Israeli left that anti-Zionists are desperate to erase. Some members of the American pro-Israel community are so afraid to criticize Israel that they miss the crucial, legitimate voices that should be shaping young Americans’ image of the Jewish State today. Let the Sha’anans speak!