Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hanukah in the Square with Klezmer Rebs

This past wednesday saw the Wellington Community Channukah event.  It was a non-denominational event organised by the Israeli Embassy.  I was able to attend the same event last year, and it was great.  Being non-denominational, it is the only event that attracts the full spectrum of the community.  This year was also open to the general public, and was a fundraiser for Wellington Free Ambulance.

Last year was so good, I was considering to rearrange a business trip so I could attend with my daughter.  Events like these act as great shmooze fests, that you get to catch up with everyone you haven't seen all year.  A similar event in Melbourne is organised by Chabad - an Orthodox Jewish group.  It also attracts the full spectrum of people.  Chabad hardly have a presence in New Zealand, but they are very active in outreach and organising events for everybody.

The Klezmer Rebs are a Left Wing band, who play in a traditional style.  Four of the band members attend Temple Sinai in Wellington.  During their performance, Dave Moskovitz made the following statement directed to the Ambassador:

Mr Ambassador, I’m glad you implored people earlier today to pray for peace, but we need more than prayer – we need action.  Praying, singing and dancing for peace aren’t enough; bringing about peace, and overcoming decades of counterproductive attitudes and actions is very hard work and requires individual and collective leadership and commitment from everyone including the Israeli government.  The time has come to tell your Government to show that leadership, put down your weapons, and seriously negotiate in good faith to bring about peace.  Bombing civilians and building settlements on land whose ownership is in question is not good faith.  Fulfil the words of Isaiah, and show that Israel is called into righteousness as a light unto the nations.  The time is now.
Many people who attended felt uncomfortable with this, on multiple levels.

It was also reported in the Dominion Post the next day.  Rather than mention the event, the announcement was the only thing reported, along with a statement from the band.


It should be noted that now the band are requesting that we ask them questions in private face to face, rather than publicly in the forums.  But when did they give any of the public a chance to debate or challenge the statement that they made at the event? 

There are some distinct questions being asked by a wide spectrum of members in the community, that the band would prefer not to answer.

Was it appropriate for the event?

The event was a non-denominational religious event, which attracted Jews from a full spectrum of backgrounds (from Orthodox Religious to non-affiliated), and non Jews as well.  In these situations, you do not want to be dividing the people, nor making them feel uncomfortable so they will not return.  The Jewish community is too small to hijack events to push your own agenda - that kind of action is selfish.

Additionally, it is very rude to your host, who is effectively doing the community a service by organising the event.  Would they prefer there was no event at all?

Who did they represent when they made this statement?

The band have stated that "Many People feel the same way", but there is no Wellington Jewish Peace group, no other mandate other than the band members. 

However, they were the ones holding the microphone, there was no statement of the capacity or 'moral majority' they are claiming.  There was no opportunity for anybody to put opposing views.

Dave Moskovitz is actually quite prominent in the media - he has been interviewed on National Radio by Kim Hill.  He's also been a president of Temple Sinai.  How would an unaffiliated  person attending know what capacity he is making his statements in - especially when he is making demands in such an authoritative way.

Was the statement correct?

It was solely directed at the Ambassador, and Israel.  It also only contains "abstract" complaints, no concrete arguments.  The biggest issue people have are with the statements "Put down your weapons" and "Bombing Civilians".   It gives no mention of the weapons that have been raised against Israelis, or empathy with the situation where they are forced to pick up weapons.  There is no mention that Palestinians refused to meet Israel, even during a settlement freeze.  The band has not really justified their position (other than stating that "many people agree"), but given any concrete facts, they seem to fade away.

There is no mention that Israel is a democracy, and what the will of the people might be.  No attempt to talk to the people rather than the government they elected.  Was the 2000 Camp David negotiations "In Good Faith?".  If so, why did they fail?  If so, aren't the same people in government?

I would also be interested to know if the band make similar statements towards the Palestinian authority, or to Hamas.  I have seen none by the band.  Israel can hardly make peace without it.  I sincerely doubt it.

The band quoted Isaiah, but I think by making such statements they are in fact in danger of breaching the 9th of the 10 Commandments.

Was there other courses of action the band could have taken?

The band could have made an impassioned plea to both the Israelis and Palestinians at the same time, openly, without directing comments to the Ambassador.  Tell everybody to put down their arms.  There would have been roars of approval. 

One of the band's complaints is that there was no other place to discuss this in the community.  However Mr Moskovitz runs two internet forums for discussing events in the Jewish community, and brought up no issues in either one.  Additionally after the event, he is also refusing to discuss or answer questions on these forums.

The band could have raised their feelings and concerns with the embassy before the concert.  That way, it could be discussed whether it was appropriate for them to continue, or how to work their concerns into the event in an appropriate way.  They could also have raised these concerns with the community at large beforehand, because it was the community that the event was serving.  To talk beforehand is preferable to what was essentially a stunt with all the subtlety of an FM radio station.

The band could form their own peace group, and make statements on behalf of their members in the public forum.  The group could organise their own community events, however I doubt they would be able to attract the spectrum that the embassy attracts.

The band could have requested a private session with the Ambassador, or quietly sought him out at the event.  Why need to do it from the stage?


I know the band members.  They are good people, active within the community, and self proclaimed Zionists.  Their actions were inappropriate to a community event, and only do damage to an already wounded community.  The comments achieved nothing positive.

The members are welcome to their views, but should express them in an appropriate forum, which is probably best in a separate group.  They will also find they achieve more sympathy within the community if they attempt to add some kind of balance to their statements.

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