by Tamar Shemesh, Israel
“We need to separate between two things. There are policies and actions of my government that I don’t agree with. On the other hand, Israel my home, and I love my home”.
NOA, Achinoam Nini, is an International well-known vocalist and musician, Israeli peace activist and my example of a brave woman. She gave an inspiring talk at my university in Italy- “There Must Be Another Way” about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and I was drawn to attend her speech. I wanted to hear how she explains the complexity of the reality to well-known scholars, criticizers, curious students and the people of the city. The thoughts that accompanied me while walking to the fancy hall were- “How do you create empathy in a semi-hostile environment, when it is not given to you automatically?”, “How do you convince others that you are the `good guys’?” And “how do you portray yourself as a human, while being blamed of dehumanizing others?” I wanted to get answers to these questions, being an Israeli student in Europe and being confronted regularly about my identity.
Noa was authentic and charismatic, and swept the audience with her magnetic performance. She talked about humanity, politics and life in Israel while sharing her personal story. She was able to present an impressive balance between her criticism towards the policy of the current government, demonstrate her concern regarding Palestinians, who she defined as dear friends while presenting herself as a messenger of hope. She expressed her deep love of Israel as a homeland and mentioned surprising unknown facts. For example, per capita, Israel has the largest amount of Human Rights organizations than any other country in the world. Her message was simple- WE WANT PEACE. The dominant discourse in Israel, which is unfortunately led by our leaders, has tagged peace activists and left wing communities as disconnected, illusionary and even- traitors. “Loyalty” to the state, became an invisible pillar in the constitution of our society, corresponding to the wave of Nationalism in the global sphere. And I wonder- “What is more loyal than going to different corners of the world, and out of deep care for the future of your country, talk about the risks and opportunities, raise positive public awareness for Israeli people as active citizens, and demonstrate the beauty of the country and the abundance of its human capital?”
Noa, as other Israeli artists who publically speak their political opinion, is being attacked within the boundary of Israel, but is gaining success and admiration overseas. Why aren’t we embracing our cultural ambassadors? Noa is not a threat, she only holds a mirror to our reality that is, to some extent, ugly and unpleasant to see.
I couldn’t not think about Rotem Sela, an Israeli model, who recently replied on her Instagram to the minister of Culture, Miri Regev; criticizing her for excluding Arabs as legitimate and equal citizens of Israel. Her comment received vast media coverage, portraying her as a new leader, a brave public figure who speaks out what we are all afraid to say. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, commented back that Israel is the national country of the Jewish people- and theirs alone. His comment was negatively covered in world media, proving the discrimination that is so vivid in our region. Rotem Sela represents the new generation of Pop culture merging into the politics. We are used to think that art and culture are separate from politics, but they are symbiotically linked. We all experience the impact of the decisions being made around those shiny tables in the parliament. Politics is about the people, about us, you, me. Politics shape our lives immensely, determining our rights, privileges and the power relations in society. Politics is about our quality of life and the way our environment is shaped. It is only blessed, in my opinion to have influencers from pop culture who speak out their truth, who criticize and say- THIS IS WRONG. Politics is not a privilege saved for politicians only. It is our right as citizens, influencers, artist, scholars, journalists, and scientists to state our basic truth.
So here I am, sitting and drinking NOA’s words, and thinking that she is not so different from Rotem Sela. She has been doing the same thing for decades and was silenced in our Israeli community. Her opinions are considered to be too “extreme”. She speaks from the heart, she speaks about hope, about humanity and love. When, for god’s sake, did these values become extreme? When did segregation, separation, racism became the norm? Isn’t that extreme?
During the talk I asked her a question – how does she deal with the comments she is getting? And she said “I just know that I am doing the right thing”. After her talk I went to talk to her, she was very kind and invited me to her performance the next day. She showed me the Israeli connection, solidarity and kindness that is embedded in our culture. The show was impressive and fascinating. The vocals of NOA were not only nice background music, but holds a significant message to all people- Love.