Israeli rock legends’ reunion signals end of an era

Over the past several months, legendary Israeli rock band Kaveret (‘Beehive’ in Hebrew) reunited to hold what is likely to be its final round of performances. For many, the group – which skyrocketed to global popularity in the 1970s with its clever songs and absurd skits – is part and parcel of Israeli identity. But a closer look at the hysteria surrounding the reunion reveals an Israeli identity longing for the days when white culture was the rule, and Mizrahi and Arab culture existed on the margins.

By Edan Ring

It seems that lately it has been impossible to ignore the excited responses to what seems to be the final reunion of the mythological Israeli rock band Kaveret. All at once, Facebook pages were full of people desperately searching for another ticket for one of the band’s final performances in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, while What’sApp groups exploded with photographs of the huge stage filled with tiny figures. And once more, you couldn’t pass by a water cooler in a hi-tech or advertising company without hearing names of the band members such as “Sanderson,” “Gov,” or “Rechter.”

Yedioth Ahronoth dedicated a good portion of its front page, as well as the entire third page to the final concert. Journalist Raz Shechnik wrote that “it could be that yesterday we witnessed the final days of history,” and that “Kaveret is our Beatles – proof that high quality music has a common denominator across the entire population.”

Ironically, Kaveret’s final concert coincided with the showing of Amnon Levy’s controversial, new documentary series on Channel 10, which deals with the silence around and suppression of the Mizrahi experience in Israel. Many of those who flocked to Kaveret’s concert are the same ones who fumed over Levy’s show, claiming that it is full of cheap populism that only serves to resuscitate a phenomenon that no longer exists in order to make money. This, they claim, only causes friction between different groups in Israeli society. In response to the show, many also stated that there is no more Ashkenazim and Mizrahim – that these are a part of the distant past, and that today everything is mixed. They believe that when Mizrahi Jews try hard, they are able to make it to high-level positions, and that we mustn’t forget that some Ashkenazim were also oppressed, and had to undergo trials and tribulations before becoming successful, due to their hard work.

In the first episode of Levy’s documentary, he interviewed children from Israel’s peripheral town, sons and daughters of Mizrahi families, who talk about how they have never met an Ashkenazi child, and go into detail about how they imagine these white people who live in central Israel. The attacks on the series mainly revolved around these scenes, which were meant to demonstrate the rift between the satiated, educated Ashkenazi community in central Israel, and the Mizrahi communities in the periphery.

However, it is precisely the Kaveret concerts, as well as the hysteria surrounding them which prove, no less than the testimonies of these unlucky children, the way in which resource distribution is deeply-rooted in class and ethnicity, and how much multiculturalism is present here. It is proof of the failure of the melting pot, in its attempt to melt all the Mizrahi cultures into the hegemonic Ashkenazi-Zionist culture of the country’s founders. For many in the Mizrahi community living in the periphery, the hysteria around Kaveret is a strange and distant phenomenon, like the never-ending tours put on by the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen.

I do not mean to downplay the appreciation for the band’s concerts or music, which is impressive, rich and most of all fun. But it seems that the disproportionate excitement has strayed from the realm of culture and fun, and into one of identity and society. In my opinion, the fact that many of these well-to-do Israelis flocked to the concert is an attempt to grasp at a Western Israeli identity that no longer exists here, harking back to days when white culture was the rule and Mizrahi culture existed on the margins, in the cassette stands in the central bus station. When London and Paris seemed closer to Tel Aviv than Beirut and Istanbul. Today, the situation is nearly the opposite – Mizrahi culture has become mainstream in Israel. The legendary Caesarea Amphitheater, which for so long was the bastion of classic mainstream Israeli music, has been selling out shows featuring Mizrahi musicians, and primetime is now full of authentic representatives. Ashkenazi artists have been relegated to the margins (where, of course, they are seen as “authentic”).

If we needed an example for the same Ashkenazi fear of the ascendance of Mizrahi culture, we got it from two different directions. The first came in the form of a Facebook post by Ariana Melamed, Ynet’s most popular cultural critic. Melamed complained that Mizrahi culture has taken over today’s teenagers, and the terrible influence it has on her daughter at her school, with artists such as Eyal Golan and Lior Narkis. The second example comes from Haaretz’s most influential people on Israeli culture list [Hebrew]. After a year of nationwide mania (both Jewish and Arab – turns out we have Arab citizens as well) surrounding Revivo’s Project, “Eyal Golan is Calling You” and a plethora of Mizrahi and Arab musicians that swept the masses, Haaretz included not one Mizrahi musician or lyricist (aside from Amir Benayoun, whom the elite considers “authentic”). Haaretz didn’t even bother to include an Arab in the list, despite the fact that Arabs make up 20 percent of the population. Out of over 100 names that appeared on the list, not one of them was Arab.

With all due respect to Kaveret’s excellent music and charisma, the hysteria surrounding their current reunion is, in a way, the 21st century version of the excitement which surrounded the Gevatron musical troupe in the 80s. The ritual thronging, as well as the yearning for the classics is actually a yearning for “the good old days” – without Eyal Golan, without Revivo’s Project and without Arab and Moroccan singers who have taken over prime time, culture columns, schools and smartphones. The same days when Mizrahi culture was kicked into a corner, and didn’t know how to fight back. On second thought, perhaps Raz Shechnik was right – this is the end of that history.

Read more:
Mizrahi culture was suppressed, Ashkenazi culture is simply forgotten
‘Revivo’s Project’ brings Mizrahi pop back to its Arab roots