Israel has had some terrific war songs, going back to 1948’s Palmach march, and 1967’s “Jerusalem of Gold,” performed for the first time as an elegy in May of that year, but transformed into a celebratory psalm three weeks later after the Six-Day War. The greatest English song supporting an embattled Israel is Bob Dylan’s blistering, sarcastic and yet poetic “Neighborhood Bully” of 1983, written in the wake of Israel’s leveling of an Iraqi nuclear reactor and of the 1982 Lebanon war.
This week, Dylan’s son-in-law, Peter Himmelman, delivers his own sly and sarcastic rocker, “Maximum Restraint,” defending Israel in its war with Hamas.
Himmelman, 54, who in a relatively quiet but acclaimed career has been nominated for a Grammy and an Emmy, explained in a Huffington Post blog (July 24), if Israel has the right to exist then Israel has the right, and is even “required,” to mount “a legitimate defense against a regime that is focused on the murder of Jews.” He says “false moral relativism” between Israel and the Palestinians — equating Hamas’ deliberate targeting of innocent civilians with Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the terror group’s infrastructure — “creates [the] vacuum in which Jewish people die — with the seeming full consent of the world” — a world that taunts Israel to use “maximum restraint.”
In “Maximum Restraint,” Himmelman sings, “They’re shooting grads and quassams, from hospitals, mosques and schools./ When they photograph their dead and dying, Hamas just sits and drools./ Another photo-op to take, take straight to CNN./ They paint Israel as the aggressor — and then it all begins again.”
In his blog, Himmelman reminds readers of Israel’s pullout from Gaza nine years ago, how Israel left Gaza with “$14 million worth of hydroponic flower factories, tens of buildings and schools left intact, plans for parks, a railroad, a seaport, an airport, even a zoo … all these plans were laid for the Gazans to begin the construction of their own state. As you well know, none of it happened and not because of anything Israel did to prevent it from happening.” He adds, “Just so we’re all clear about history: [Israel’s] ‘blockade’ of Gaza didn’t begin until the flower gardens were razed and turned into launching sites, until tunnels were dug and munitions brought in from Iran and Sudan and until the rockets started raining on the Jews in southern Israel.”
Himmelman sings, “We gave them back Gaza and they started their missile attacks./Then they went cryin’ to the UN when Israel hit them back./ Too few Jews have died, there must be something wrong./ Israel must be cheating, it’s not fair that they’re so strong.” Verses like that echo “Neighborhood Bully,” when Dylan sings, “He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin./ He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.”
Himmelman writes that his 20-something son Isaac tried to console him by comparing the Jewish situation to that time before Israel’s founding when Jews were powerless. Today, he writes, the challenge is how much power to wield. For supporters of Israel, says Himmelman, “that is consolation indeed.”