Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

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seb
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Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby seb » Sat Mar 29, 2008 11:22 am

Morning everybody,
I'm wondering about Leonard's real positions on this issue.
Apparently according to Wikipedia English, he took side with the Israeli front during the Yom Kippur war, (he reportedly shared Cognac with Ariel Sharon) and the final verse of Lover, lover, lover ("May it be shield for you against your enemy") would be an expression of his support to Israeli troops. Also, in an interview with the French magazine l'Express, he said he wished "those I support will win". Might also be that as this happened at a time when Israel was being severely defeated and when zionist propaganda was trying to imply that Israel's existence was threatened to force the world to "rescue" them, Cohen might have been subdued into this position.
On the other side, I find on the Wikipedia French a slightly different comment, namely that the song "Story of Isaac" might be interpreted as a refusal from Cohen to be mobilised against his will into this conflict and be forced to take side with Israel - the Wikipedia article specifies however that Cohen never explicited that interpretation, refusing to name the people he was addressing in the song (continuing to call them "they"). For me it's rather clear that Cohen was reluctant to get embrigaded in the wrongdoings of the Israeli army, but in the absence of any proper reference to proven declarations and statements, I'm confused...
Additionally do we know anything regarding what he thinks of the current situation in the near East and the horrors perpetrated in the Gaza strip?

Could anyone clarify that matter?

Thanks in advance
Last edited by seb on Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
COLIN-MOORE
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby COLIN-MOORE » Sat Mar 29, 2008 6:06 pm

Hi Seb,Please don,t try to bring Leonard into your little view of the coflicts in the middle east .And when you speak of the horrors of the Gaza strip do you mean Hamas butchered their Fatah brothers.
seb
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby seb » Sat Mar 29, 2008 7:17 pm

COLIN-MOORE wrote:Hi Seb,Please don,t try to bring Leonard into your little view of the coflicts in the middle east


Hi Colin,
Well, thanks(?) for that
If that's the position Leonard himself has taken, that could do for an answer, like "Leonard has always refused to be dragged into the Middle East conflict".
But the rest of your post lets me think it's more of your (little) view ; besides, I don't see why you feel offended at the mere mention of "horrors perpetrated in Gaza" (I was very careful to phrase this in a neutral way) - don't you read the press?

My intention was not to debate about the Middle East but only to know better about Leonard's political positions as a committed singer.
I quoted excerpts from Wikipedia on which I'm seeking clarification based on public statements (so I'm not trying to bring him into anything) of this artist whom I admire very much.

Can anybody else on the board answer my questions without being aggressive ?

Thanks
Last edited by seb on Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:35 am, edited 2 times in total.
DBCohen
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby DBCohen » Sun Mar 30, 2008 5:42 am

seb,

First, I believe it is best to view the facts in historical perspective:

1. “Story of Isaac” was written and performed during the worse period of the Vietnam War, and is clearly reflecting LC’s views at the time. When he said:

You who build these altars now
to sacrifice these children,
you must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
and you never have been tempted
by a demon or a god.



- everybody knew what he meant.

Those familiar with LC’s work know he is not a pacifist. He does not condemn the occasional necessity of taking up arms, only the wrongful scheming by the – in his view - ungodly. He also expressed his admiration to the discipline of military life (and he even joined the monastery as a kind of substitute).

2. About the Yom Kippur War: Israel came under the joint attack of Egypt and Syria, caught off-guard, and for a while there was a real fear for its survival (regardless of “Zionist propaganda” to which gullible LC might have fallen victim, as you seem to argue). LC felt it was his duty to go and try to help, and he spent several weeks with the Israeli troops (the meeting with Sharon may or may not have taken place – no clear verification is possible).

Much about this subject have been written on this Forum in the past.

a. The passage about LC’s war experience from Ira Nadel’s biography – which contains some inaccuracies – appears on the following thread:

“Leonard’s visit to Israel during the Kippur war”:
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=6613&p=69661&hilit=Oshik#p69661

b. I’ll quote here some of what I wrote about it on Nov. 8, 2006 on the “New Edition of Nadel’s book” thread:

I have a newspaper clipping of a short article from a special issue on the occasion of 20th anniversary of the war, published by the Hebrew paper Ma’ariv on 24.09.93. I am not sure that all the details in this article are accurate, because they are based on the recollection of people 20 years after the fact, but it still contains valuable evidence. According to this article, LC arrived in Israel on October 7, with the intention of volunteering to work in a kibbutz, but in Tel-Aviv he met the Israeli singer Oshik Levi, who told him he would contribute more by singing. According to Levi, LC told him that “my songs are mostly depressing, and would not help raise the fighters' morale”, but Levi convinced him to join a show at an air force base. When he went up to sing, he was warmly received. He went on to sing many times in front of soldiers with Levi, Matti Caspi and a third Israeli singer. They gave four or five shows every day in front of soldiers everywhere in the Sinai Desert.
Levi also says: “I tried to find him respectable places to sleep in, but he insisted to sleep with us on the ground. He was full of enthusiasm and was very interested in what was going on. When we came to a base of frog-men commandos, he decided he wants to be a commando fighter. When we met with air force pilots, he decided to become a pilot”. According to Levi, LC left after the fighting ended and the negotiations began, saying that “once the politicians step in, I step out”.
The article mentions that LC wrote “Lover Lover Lover” during the war. An earlier newspaper article, which unfortunately I no longer have, gave the first stanza as LC wrote it then, but later changed. I only remember the first line: “I saw my brothers fighting in the desert”.



c. There is another thread on the subject:

“LC and the Yom Kippur war, 1973”
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=4978&p=58648&hilit=Oshik#p58648

3. LC rarely expresses his views on political issues; he speaks through his art, and is often subtle, ambiguous and sometimes inconsistent. Finding out what he really thinks on this or that issue, as you wish to do, will always be frustrating. My guess, based on about four decades of acquaintance with his work, is that his sentiment would always be with Israel as a Jewish state, while criticizing some of its actions. But that’s my guess, and he may not subscribe to it, or he may change his views, as many of us often do.

Judging from what can be found on the Internet, it seems that Tel-Aviv might be included in his coming tour. If so, he may use that opportunity to express some political opinions, but then he may not. Let’s wait and see.

4. And, finally, you say you wish to know “Leonard's political positions as a committed singer”, but I’m not sure I know what “a committed singer” means, or why should a singer be more committed than the next person, or why should we care about what a singer thinks of this or that issue. Indeed, some singers have taken their self-importance to the degree of self-parody (v. Bono). Luckily, LC is not one of them.

Personally I’m more interested in what LC, as a true artist, has to say about life and death, love, faith etc., than what are his views on the current issues. In fact, I’m more interested in how he says it than in what he says, because the basic truths are age-old, and the true test of the artist is the fresh and unique expression.
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby seb » Sun Mar 30, 2008 9:01 am

Hi DBCohen,
I really wish to thank you warmly for this extensive and documented answer.
As I said, it is not my intention to discuss the Middle East conflict here.
Only one comment : "committed singer" is a phrase I don't like very much either, but the notion itself exists,
at least some artists (but not all!) consider that, beyond music, their lyrics are a way to convey certain ideas or a vision
of the world, including political events, exactly like certain writers do (but not all!).

Thanks again.

Seb
Last edited by seb on Mon Mar 31, 2008 8:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
BlizzardofIce
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby BlizzardofIce » Sun Mar 30, 2008 4:22 pm

Hi.

I read an interview with LC some time ago , don't remember where, where the journalist reffered to him supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war and asked him if he would have done the same thing again this time, supporting the Israeli army. He then answered that he could come and play for the army, but then he would have played for the palestinians as well. He would play for those who suffered on both sides.

I think those of us who knows LC's views on such things as this knows that he will focus on the humans in the conflict, not the poitical issues. He sees the suffering on both sides.

Tom Waits has a song - Road to Peace- , read his lyrics or listen to the song. I think LC would be very close to what TW has to say.

LC would never see the conflict in black/white

Just some thoughts
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seb
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby seb » Mon Mar 31, 2008 12:11 am

Hi Blizzard,
Thanks for these thoughts, I think they provide a valuable viewpoint, casts a slightly different flavour (more human I must say).
I'd be interested in reading the interview you are hinting to, if you or anyone else can find the references.

Thanks again
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ania
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby ania » Tue Apr 08, 2008 3:45 pm

BlizzardofIce wrote:He then answered that he could come and play for the army, but then he would have played for the palestinians as well. He would play for those who suffered on both sides.

it feels good to read this
truly


BlizzardofIce wrote:Tom Waits has a song - Road to Peace- , read his lyrics or listen to the song. I think LC would be very close to what TW has to say.

a great song indeed
http://www.tomwaitslibrary.com/lyrics/orphans-brawlers/roadtopeace.html
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Rachel
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby Rachel » Tue Apr 08, 2008 4:35 pm

Leonard's political positions as a committed singer.


'Politically committed artist' is a valid conceptual category, but it is a specifc one which artists of various types usually choose for themselves, because they want their works to be interpreted in a Marxist/socialist/feminist/whatever way.

I don't think Leonard is one of these, which is not to say that you can't interpret his works politically of course. But there is a difference!
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby AvidCohenFan » Tue Oct 21, 2008 10:52 pm

Was very worried about this issue a few days ago, but then I read the An Unclean Start in Death of a Lady's Man and even before the last line - 'I must be doing something really stupid, I said to myself, to make another man so happy' - those worries were gone. Though it doesn't really say that Cohen wasn't on Israel's side, it shows that he was, well, at the very least, being on Israel's side in an excellent, cynical and humorous manner.
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hydriot
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby hydriot » Wed Oct 22, 2008 12:12 am

On the question of sides in a conflict, I think the most thought-provoking and illuminating comment Leonard ever made was his assertion that when the Pentagon is finally stormed it will be by people wearing very much the same uniforms as the defenders.
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
aherodias
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby aherodias » Thu May 07, 2009 10:10 am

How relevant is it to have expectations, particularly on political subjects, of an artist like Leonard? I guess that the most one could hope for is some clarity regarding his views, his humanity, gleaned from his collected poems and songs. I realize that my being disappointed at LC for going to Tel Aviv after the brutality of the Gaza invasion exceeds the bounds of reasonable expectation. I suppose I would prefer it if he did go, but was willing to make a statement about what his Jewish state has turned into.
This is what I would expect from Pete Seeger, or Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Brown, or a thousand artists of their class and renown. Why should Leonard be any different? This is no time for subtlety or delicacy about the mass killing of women and children. I’m guessing that he understands this issue very well. Does he lack the personal courage to make a public stand against actions that must terribly offend his morals and ethics? Once again I refer to Pete, who after being blacklisted for more than 15 years, in his first national TV appearance performed a song clearly intended as a critique of President Johnson and the VietNam war.
Just as a postscript: A previous posting in this thread made the following observation: “About the Yom Kippur War: Israel came under the joint attack of Egypt and Syria, caught off-guard, and for a while there was a real fear for its survival.”
I think that statements like this one should be considered in historical context. It is true that this war was the only one in which Israel was attacked seemingly without provocation. However, it’s worth pointing out that the attacks took place in territory (Sinai and Golan) that clearly did not belong to Israel, land that Israel, acting as aggressor, occupied as a result of previous wars.
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somewhat_nifty
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby somewhat_nifty » Fri May 08, 2009 10:34 am

I always avoid I/P discussion on the internet because of the very strong opinions on both sides, but there is the passage Leonard wrote about Israel in the Book of Mercy which seems fairly critical of Israel's actions, though of course that was published in 1984 and may not be what he feels now.
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hydriot
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby hydriot » Tue May 12, 2009 12:31 pm

1984 was two years after the appalling massacres in the Sabra and Chatila camps. That was the moment the Israeli Government lost my support, for it seemed to me the wheel had turned full circle, and the oppressed had become the oppressors. I suspect it affected Leonard too. It affected a lot of us. Since then my position has been pro-Judaism and anti-Zionism, and if we can only get more people to think in those terms, there might actually be some hope for the region.

Ariel Sharon was found by an Israeli Commission of Inquiry to bear "personal responsibility" for the massacres. The Commission concluded that he should never again hold public office. He went on to become Prime Minister.

That said, I reiterate that I think no celebrity should be pressured to support one side or another, to boycott this or lend his name to that. It is a private matter, and the political opinion of a celebrity should be of no more and no less significance than the political opinion of any other citizen.
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
Lawrence W
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Re: Leonard Cohen positions on zionism/Israel

Postby Lawrence W » Tue May 12, 2009 1:50 pm

Unfortunately, finishing his tour in Israel represents a political position no matter what Leonard Cohen may feel about the Palestine-Israel conflict. This was in Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, yesterday: "activists called on supporters to write to Cohen's manager and leave messages on his official online forum. They published a list of destinations on Cohen's tour, ending with Israel 'if we are not successful'." As much as I like Cohen and his music, I cannot, in good conscience feel good about him any longer. Going to Israel and singing at this time, after what Israel did in Gaza and continues to do, is the same, in my mind, as performing in Germany during the Nazi era. The careers of entertainers suffered for doing this and I think Cohen deserves similar treatment, sadly, unless he changes his mind.

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