Daily Israel Report

Music Icon Ariel Zilber: I'll Be There to Prevent the Expulsion

Israeli rock/folk singer Ariel Zilber
By Ezra HaLevi and Ben Bresky
First Publish: 3/14/2005, 1:52 PM / Last Update: 3/13/2005, 7:17 PM

Israeli rock/folk singer Ariel Zilber, who has moved to a Gaza community in solidarity with the Jews of Gush Katif, talked about his move on Israel National Radio’s "The Beat with Ben Bresky."

Zilber, speaking yesterday with Bresky, had just returned from his weekend home in Elei Sinai, a Jewish community that is home to residents ranging from secular to observant. “On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I live in Natat, in the Galilee,” said Zilber, “near the Hizbullah. And on Thursday I travel to Elei Sinai to spend the weekend with the Jews of the Gaza coast.”

The veteran Israeli pop-music icon is known for his scores of feel-good hits, which are often heard on pop radio stations, as well as on cell-phone ring tones throughout the country.

“My songs were never complicated or cynical,” said Zilber, who has been the subject of controversy as well as animosity within the Israeli music scene following his increased contact with the residents of Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza).

Responding indirectly to a question about how he handles the pressure from the largely left-wing, anti-religious music industry in Israel, Zilber said, "There is a singer named Etti Ankri. She is a wonderful singer and was extremely popular, but the second she became religious and started writing spiritual songs, they told her they didn’t want to play her songs any more... I don't talk to other musicians about politics."

“When I called your record company to do the interview," show host Binyamin Bresky told Zilber, "the man who answered the phone [assuming I was left-wing] told me, 'Just don’t talk about politics with Ariel Zilber – he is willing to chain himself to Gush Katif.'”

Zilber enraged some critics by performing for the close to 150,000 protesters at the most recent anti-disengagement rally outside the Knesset building. Zilber played an old song by Naomi Shemer, called The Shark. Explaining this choice, Zilber said, “In the old days, when Jews were not allowed to talk politics for fear of the authorities, they would talk about fish instead.”

The theme of The Shark is a sardine that is so eager to garner acknowledgment from the shark that it promises the predator its fins, eyes and tail until the shark finally agrees to say "hello." Ultimately, the shark swallowed the sardine whole. The fish analogy is a tongue-in-cheek attempt to skirt a government crackdown on vocal opponents to the withdrawal plan.

“I am protesting the expulsion of my fellow Israelis,” Zilber said. “When the disengagement happens, I am going to be there. I don’t know what will be, but neither does anyone.”

The curly-haired personification of the Israeli mix of humor and stubborn will, Zilber says he is planning on traveling to the Knesset before the Jewish holiday of Purim, “wearing sackcloth and with ashes on my head like Mordechai [from the Purim story] to prevent this expulsion which will simply mark the end of Israel. The people have been brainwashed to not care about their own brothers and sisters here. They care about children in Kosovo, about tsunami victims, but about our own people they say, ‘let them go, it’s OK.’”

Zilber says the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern Shomron has more to do with the internal struggle over the future of Israel than with geo-political security concerns: “Look, there are many people in Israel who do not want a Jewish State. Even many religious people do not want a Jewish State. It is very easy to be Jewish under a foreign government... It is very difficult to have a Jewish State, because there are so many differing opinions and approaches within our people.”

“I am not religious,” Zilber said, “but I am religious. I think every Israeli is religious inside. When I speak with folks who are not religious they tell me, ‘we believe in universal morality.’ I ask them where it comes from and they say, ‘from Greeks and Romans and Chinese,’ and I ask them ‘what about Moses?’ They say, ‘Oh, that – those are just stories.'”

Zilber said that it is critically important to remain positive while struggling for the Land of Israel. He discussed a Woodstock-type scenario where protestors would come to oppose the pullout with guitars, songs and flowers, stopping the disengagement in its tracks. “But the government wants a fight,” he said sadly. “I don’t know what to say. We are waiting for a Purim miracle in Gush Katif.”

Click here to listen to the entire Israel National Radio interview.