I first heard Amir Benayoun’s music when I lived in Israel in the 1990s. His voice and his music spoke to me. When I hear “When you are sad,” the depths of the singer’s empathy he feels for his love permeates the room. “I Have a Dream,” also from his debut album Only You, is a love song that has stuck with me through the years. Every once in a while, I share one of his songs on Facebook. I just love his voice, I do.
Point is, I pay attention when I hear his name.
A few years ago, Amir Benayoun’s name appeared on my radar. Knife stabbings were occurring frequently, primarily by Israeli Arabs from East Jerusalem, and Benayoun came out with a song that was called “Ahmed Loves Israel,” in which the protagonist dreams about killing Jews. It was called racist by members of the Knesset. President Reuben Rivlin cancelled a scheduled performance at his residence where Benayoun was supposed to perform.
I know the Mizrahi singer is observant and leans right, I know occasionally he says or sings something that is controversial. In looking him up now, I also discovered that he came out with an album in Arabic, based on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), in which three of his songs were adopted by the Syrian opposition and that his newest song is a duet with a female singer, Moran Aharoni. A pretty song, it’s also not typical for observant singers to sing with women.
Amir Benayoun is an interesting mix.
In 2014, he came out with “The Last One Left,” about the remaining survivors of the Holocaust dwindling in number. Composed by Benayoun, with lyrics by political strategist Moshe Klughaft, the singer performed it at Auschwitz in a very moving performance. Its lyrics speak to what will happen when witnesses to the atrocities are no longer alive. Interestingly enough, the government of a Muslim nation, Kosovo, decided to produce a movie about the Holocaust to be broadcast on its national television station, and this past November, a film crew arrived in Israel to film Benayoun and his song for the movie.
Why am I writing about this now?
Benayoun is slated to perform “The Last One” again, this time in Hebrew, Arabic and English, at the UN for International Holocaust Day on January 27, along with two other singers. And the US Embassy is refusing to give him his visa. Apparently, they are not issuing it because they do not feel the singer has convinced them he intends to return to Israel after the performance. 25 or 30 years ago, my Israeli ex-husband told me how difficult it was for single male Israelis to get a visa for this reason. Benayoun is neither. The other two singers, David D’Or and Miri Mesika, received theirs without a problem.
His song, an anthem to survivors, is truly beautiful. His voice should be heard. I hope the Embassy issues his visa.