A few weeks ago, the student group of which I am President, Vermont Students for Israel, together with Hillel, invited the Israeli/Palestinian unity band Heartbeat to play at the University of Vermont. Heartbeat describes itself as “an international community of musicians, educators, and students using music to build mutual understanding and transform conflict.” When I saw that Heartbeat advertised itself as promoting, “mutual understanding” I acknowledged the fun and humanizing capacity of music. I thought it would be a great idea to bring this group to campus. I could not have been more wrong. The group was a mix of Israelis, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians, but it was not representative of all sides and views of the conflict. Heartbeat brought together anti-Israel Jews and Arabs to promote a highly partisan view of a complex conflict, speciously promoting the simplistic conclusion that Israel is entirely to blame.
I invited the group because I value and desire dialog with the goal of increasing understanding for both sides of the issue. The problem was that the band took many jabs at Israeli security measures while failing to make one single, that’s right, not one single mention of terrorism. No mention of suicide bombings, recent murders, or rocket fire. The group politicized its music in a song entitled “What is the wall good for?” referring to the barrier separating Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. While it is perfectly legitimate to have a negative opinion of any sort of security barrier, you cannot bill yourself as non-partisan when you fail to mention the reason the security barrier went up in 2005, namely, the thousands of attacks on Israeli civilians during the 2nd intifada which left over 1,500 Israelis dead. A group cannot honestly say “we condemn violence of absolutely any kind; physical, emotional, psychological, structural and beyond. We vehemently oppose the oppression of any group or person by another.” As part of their organization’s values, and then fail to condemn the violent acts of terrorism or even mention them once.
One of the band members claimed that he could not understand why the wall is there. Anyone familiar with the conflict, including the band member, knows perfectly well why the wall is there. Does he really not understand, or remember the intifada? Another band member, responding to a question from an audience member, gave the reason for “Jews thinking all Arabs want to kill them” as nationalistic pride which they are peer pressured into, and the psychological need for an enemy. The premise of this question is wrong, and the duty of a dialog and education promoting group is to dispel these kind of myths. Most Israelis do not think all Arabs want to kill them, most Israelis interact with Arabs daily, in all sorts of industries and in the police force, military, Supreme Court and Parliament. The band members, who happen to live in the region, know this but deliberately chose to ignore and thus obscure the truth in favor of a partisan narrative.
To be fair, many Israelis do think that many Arabs wish to kill them. Is this because of nationalist coercion or the psychological need for an enemy? Perhaps it is, but perhaps the Israelis think that Arabs want to kill them because that is what they hear during the Palestinian riots “Itbach al yahud” and “Khaybar ya yahud.” Maybe it’s because “kill the Jews” is written in Hamas’ Charter “Kill the Jew behind every rock and tree” Maybe it is because of the three aggressive wars which Israel’s Arab neighbors launched, maybe it is because of the bloody intifadas, the continuing attempts at murder, the tens of thousands of rockets launched at Israeli civilians, or the glorification, even by those considered moderates, of murderers of children. Or it could be Israeli nationalism and the psychological need for an enemy, you decide.
The deliberate one sided agenda of Heartbeat led one of the Hillel organizers to post on the University of Vermont Hillel Facebook page, “this could have been amazing if it was about Israelis and Palestinians coming together despite their differences to promote peace and positive change, and to talk about solutions built on personal relationships. Instead it was Israelis and Palestinians with the same opinions coming together to speak about how awful Israel is.” The band is entitled to its anti-military and anti-security worldview, but it would have been enlightening to hear some sort of condemnation of Palestinian militarism and violence as well.
The band’s outlook on the military which protects Israeli Arabs and Jews alike, is naïve. Their demonization of the military (one of the group members gripped his guitar like a gun while he answered a question about objecting to and dodging the draft) would have made BDS supporters squeal with delight. As someone who has a little brother serving in an elite combat unit, someone who has fought to protect all Israeli citizens and witnessed horror, bravery and sacrifice, including the critical injury of a good friend who along with his family will never be the same, I was especially bitter about cosponsoring these draft dodgers. It was nauseating to hear the Jewish band members talking about how they managed to weasel their way out of service to the applause of many naïve audience members, while my own brother is risking his life on the border with Syria.
Bringing this group was an insult to the brave soldiers and their families who have sacrificed and are sacrificing to protect their country and families and the families of this band, against very real threats. It almost brought me to tears thinking about my friend Dvir Bar Chai who was severely injured in Operation Cast Lead, a war launched to stop incessant rocket fire on Israeli towns before Iron Dome was operational. These draft dodgers could have chosen to serve as rescue, first response all around the world, medical professionals, councilors, and on the home front, dealing with making rough neighborhoods better. Instead they portrayed themselves as having the moral high ground while they let other young Israelis and their families sacrifice their lives for their protection.
At the end of the concert I spoke with the leader of the specific group which came to University of Vermont. He was an Israeli Arab from Haifa who saw my Golani Brigade hoodie and said I don’t belong at a Heartbeat concert. So much for promoting understanding. My response to him was that Golani and Heartbeat have more in common than he thought. Both Golani and Heartbeat are a mix of Arabs and Jews, with an Arab, Col. Rassan Alian, commanding the entire Golani brigade. Both Golani, and Heartbeat like to sing (any Golani soldier or veteran will know what I am talking about). The difference, I told the band member, is that the Arabs and Jews in Golani are not ashamed of their country.
If you run, or are affiliated with a pro-Israel group, and are thinking of bringing Heartbeat as a fun, understanding promoting event, think again. By bringing Heartbeat to your campus you will be bringing a partisan, agenda driven, draft dodging, IDF bashing, terror ignoring group to sing and preach about how Israel is terrible, militaristic and oppressive while failing to mention Arab violence even once. The Hillel and Vermont Students for Israel on the University of Vermont will not be inviting them again.