August 13, 2004

by Reb Yudel
Bruce Springsteen, Naomi Shemer, and the tunnel of politics

Andrew Silow-Carroll discusses singing bards and their politics:

I don't know if Naomi Shemer ever heard of Bruce Springsteen, although I'm willing to bet that Springsteen never heard of Naomi Shemer. But if Shemer had not died earlier this year and Springsteen spoke a little Hebrew, they could have had an interesting conversation about the intersection of popular music and national politics.

Shemer, who was 74 when she died in June, was widely regarded as Israel’s unofficial national songwriter. Her best-known songs, most famously “Jerusalem of Gold,” were hymns to the country that wistfully — always wistfully — longed for a time when Jews could live at peace in their land.

Israelis debate whether she had a political, especially rightist, agenda, and it’s true that some of her songs were taken up as virtual anthems by the settlement movement, for instance. Earlier this month, an Israeli Arab member of Knesset, Azmi Bishara, managed to stir up a hornets’ nest when he wrote a column accusing her of racism. For Bishara, a lyric like “The markets of old Jerusalem are deserted,” from “Jerusalem of Gold,” negates the Arabs who were living there all along.