Friday, December 17, 2010

The Mysterious "After" Life in Israel

The Mysterious “After” Life in Israel
*with apologies to the memory of William Safire

Bon Jovi is playing in Israel! The news trumpets down from the heavens as if herald angels were singing and not, as in actuality, a Jersey born and bred pop and rock balladeer. To read the Jewish and Israeli press (most notably, the JTA and Ha’aretz), this is some great, earth-shattering story. As if, all along, we had been (excuse the pun) Livin’ on a Prayer.

It is not. A band or performer playing in Israel should be commonplace. It should be expected. It is both. It should be met with as much reverence as only the most caring fan has for that particular artist. Israel is a home to the arts. Israel has multiple protections for free speech, free expression and other freedoms that are the lifeblood of artistic creation. It also has a large and exuberant population that turns any concert into a huge party. Bon Jovi playing in Israel (with all due respect to the artist) should be met with a yawn, not an exclamation point.

The exclamation is made necessary only by the use of another figment of speech that has arbitrary value assigned to it – the word “after.” Each article explains that Bon Jovi’s decision comes “after” decisions by other bands not to play in Israel. Some of these bands claiming, of course, that they were participating in some sort of political action – some sort of poorly conceived “boycott” against the state. Others simply found themselves unable to sell enough tickets to justify the expense of travel to Israel (after all, it seems odd that most of the “boycotters” were washed up, talent-questionable acts way “after” the heyday of their career).

Many events have occurred before Bon Jovi’s tour to Israel. For instance, we have the many wars by which Israel protected their citizens from Arab aggression. There are also the establishment of the many laws that protect artists which make Israel such a welcoming home to creatives. Of course, Bon Jovi’s decision also comes after Israel created the many museums, galleries, concert halls and venues that make it a perfect venue to listen to some good, old New Jersey rock n’ roll. Why do our papers not choose to start their timeline where it really ought to begin – at the beginning with Bon Jovi and his manager saying “you know what, I want to rock Tel Aviv!”

This dangerous “after” has been seen before. In our constant defense of our existence as a state, there is the idea that we were created “after” the Holocaust. When we discuss the war crimes against Sderot, we express how it happened “after” we pulled out of Gaza. And, of course, every military action, no matter how relevant and important occurs “after” some particularly nasty terrorist attack.

Words have a funny power. “After” is meant to create a timeline but, in the hyper-Jewish usage, it becomes an equal sign, forever equating the two items that surround it. The decision by some washed-up folk rock act from a backwater of England to not play a dive bar in a small town in Israel should not equal the decision by one of the world’s most popular rock musician to perform in a major concert venue in Tel Aviv. It doesn’t, not until the newspaper puts that magic “after” before it. Similarly, this “after” becomes a greater or less than sign. Depending on the reader, Bon Jovi’s decision is either significantly more important due to the incident that occurred before, making Israel seem like some Banana Republic on the verge of losing its artistic merit or it degrades the action, turning it into a political gesture it is not.

This is indicative of a wider problem with Israeli advocacy and Jewish self-conceptualization. The constant need to justify ourselves and our actions create a belief that the justification is needed. Further, these articles do no more than re-affirm the mistaken and under-informed political opinion of meaningless pseudo-celebrities and the swill their P.R. agent wrote in between bong hits and trying to figure out where they might actually sell a few tickets. I hate to be so blatant, but these editors deserve some (wait for it) Bad Medicine.

Now, I will most likely be attending Bon Jovi’s concert – after I eat dinner and run my errands for the day. And, although it will be the highlight of my day, it probably will stop there as far as significance goes. If Bon Jovi isn’t your bag, I suggest you check any one of the other, numerous music venues, art shows, photography exhibits, and million other artsy things to do in the beautiful, creative, cosmopolitan country of Israel.

“After” all, art is about the future.

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