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Jewish Journal

Muddied Waters

by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

August 27, 2013 | 6:14 pm

Last night, I had a bizarre dream. I would ask a therapist to help me analyze it, but it’s August and there are none to be found.

In the dream, I was back in college, and Mick Jagger (!) was lecturing on the Middle East, and the lecture was totally biased towards the Palestinian narrative. When the three Jewish students complained, he told us that we would get our turn as well. In the dream, I said to “Professor” Jagger (and I am not kidding): “Do the Palestinians simply assume that time is on their side [an obvious reference to the Stones’ old hit]?"

A therapist would say that Jagger was actually a nocturnal representation of Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd front man who has called for an international cultural boycott of Israel.

These are Waters’ words:

“Please join me and all our brothers and sisters in global civil society in proclaiming our rejection of apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”

True, other rock stars have boycotted Israel. But this is the first time in my memory that someone has actually called for a boycott. And, let the record note, Israel is, now, the only country in the world that is boycott-able. I sometimes wonder how British rock stars would have felt if American rock musicians had boycotted Britain during the darkest days of the troubles in northern Ireland. Remember how China destroyed Tibet? No "Boycott China" campaign. 

In 2006, Waters was photographed spraying the words “no thought control” on the West Bank separation barrier.  (I never liked the song “The Wall.” It always seemed frighteningly fascist to me). Roger: anyone who has ever visited Israel, or anyone who regularly reads Israeli newspapers or listens to Israeli politicians or sees Israeli films or listens to Israeli rock music knows that there is absolutely no control of anyone’s thoughts or political actions.

On the other hand, Roger, you might want to go to Egypt, Syria, Iran, and a host of other Moslem countries – just so you know what thought control really is.

That would be a journey to “the dark side of the moon.”

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli has basically said to Roger Waters: “Kiss off.” (I am researching the Hebrew equivalent).  “Take my image out of your videos.” This is what I call, truly, bar mitzvah. (Sorry). 

There were some who were willing to give Roger Waters a pass when he adorned a pig with a Star of David. Fine.

But when you mix that in with the anti-Israel obsession, you really have to wonder how Roger Waters feels about the Jews. 

And if the Jews are the only minority group in the world that one can hate with absolute impunity -- then, yes, I have a problem with that. 

Sure, there are rock stars who boycott Israel. But, the list of Israel-visitors is much longer: Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, the Pet Shop Boys, Regina Spektor, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Elton John, The Scorpions, Rod Stewart, Rihanna, the Pixies, Barbara Streisand, Tom Jones (who is being pressured to call off his trip).

I understand why these artists are playing Israel. In some cases, it is out of a genuine respect and love for the State of Israel and its people. And in other cases, it is not that the artist is performing in Israel. It’s more like they are refusing to not play in Israel. A gig, after all, is a gig.

But who cares about motives?

Which brings me to the original Man in Black (and I am not talking about some guy in Meah Shearim): the late, iconic country singer, Johnny Cash, whose tenth yahrzeit will be in a few weeks.

There’s a new commemorative volume about Johnny Cash. It has rare photos and great biographical details.  And, of course, there’s “Walk The Line,” the 2005 bio-pic about Cash.

But both the book and the film omit a crucial part of Cash's life. 

And that was the State of Israel.

It might be that the popular artist who was most supportive of Israel was, yes, Johnny Cash.

Between 1966 and the mid-1990s, Johnny Cash, along with his wife June Carter Cash and their children, visited Israel five times. He recorded an album of inspirational hymns about the Land of Israel – “The Holy Land” in 1968 -- and made films about his journeys to Biblical sites.

Check out these lyrics to Cash's song “Land of Israel”:

From the top of Sinai to the Sea of Galilee
Every hill and plain is home every place is dear to me
There the breezes tell the stories oh what stories they do tell
Of the mighty things that happened in the land of Israel.

From the rolling plain of Sharon to Mount Tabor's lofty heights
To the deserts of Beersheba all is calm all is right
Green the trees are on the mountain sweet the water in the well
May there never more be sorrow in the land of Israel.

Check out the video -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1AzKrUTHVU

I am grateful to my friend Shalom Goldman for teaching me about this. (Check out his book about Christian Zionism -- Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land -- http://www.amazon.com/Zeal-Zion-Christians-Jews-Promised/dp/0807833444).

Johnny Cash’s brand of Christian Zionism was not about right-wing politics.  Rather, it was based simply on his faith.

When Cash died, the State of Israel released a statement: “…Johnny Cash was loved by Israelis and his music will live on in the pubs, cafes and hearts of a grateful nation.”

So, how about naming a street in Jerusalem Rechov Johnny Cash?

We need more friends in the music world like Johnny Cash.

Because in far too many corners of the contemporary cultural world, support for Israel has become – well, a “ring of fire.”

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