Israeli rock star ignites political uproar Few teens take seriously his advice to leave

many have doubts about nation

September 13, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM JOSHUA BRILLIANT CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — JERUSALEM -- Aviv Geffen, the popular, cross-dressing bad boy of Israeli rock, may have gone too far.

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter urged his fans this week to pack their bags and leave Israel because the peace process seems stalled.

Geffen's comments to an Israeli magazine for teen-agers incensed the right, brought objections from the left, elicited a rebuke from the country's president and kept the radio talk shows busy.

Even some of Geffen's teen-age fans scoffed at his suggestion that they leave. But the public reaction reflects Israelis' concern about young people and their values.

"I recommend youngsters leave the country," Geffen said in his interview with Ma'ariv for Youth. "There is no democracy in Israel. I am ashamed in the government and the prime minister."

Geffen, voted the country's most popular singer by magazine readers, is not a wholly nonpartisan figure. He has been photographed alongside Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and is a critic of Peres' successor, Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-of-center Likud coalition.

But the singer's remarks coincided with publication of a new survey of attitudes about military service.

Israelis are required by law to serve in the military -- at least three years for men and 18 months for women, in most cases beginning immediately upon graduation from high school, followed by years of reserve duty.

The new survey, by Bar-Ilan University Professor Yaacov Katz, examined parents' attitudes on their children joining the military.

The survey found that only 69 percent wanted their children to serve in the army. That mirrored Katz's study of 12th-graders in 1995, when only 76 percent said they wanted to join the armed services, a sharp decline from the 1986 figure of 93 percent.

Similar surveys among students who attend religious schools found that 86 percent of those pupils wanted to join the military.

"The main issue is personal rights," Katz said. "People are beginning to believe that personal rights are more important than the collective rights, and this is making an impression on the young generation."

Geffen's remarks enraged members of Likud, who called on the Labor Party to disavow the rock star. Uzi Landau, a Likud member of Parliament, said he would have expected Labor leaders "out of public courage to spit Geffen forth from their midst."

Geffen sells a lot of records, but concerns over his influence among the country's youth may be unfounded.

Young Israelis interviewed this week identified with Geffen's frustration over the stalled peace process, and in some cases expressed reservations about serving in Israel's armed forces -- but the teens said Geffen's "pack-your-bags" imperative was not the answer.

Zohar Frydman, a 17-year-old at one of Jerusalem's experimental schools, doesn't listen much to her Geffen recordings these days.

The rock star articulates what many young people don't have the courage to express, the purple-haired teen said. But "if someone does not feel in his place here," said Zohar, "he can either change his plans or change what's going on here."

Added Nava Ben-Moshe, 15: "Every country has its own problems. We shouldn't run away from them. We should solve them."

While picking up an award for "song of the year" this week, Geffen apologized for his comments, saying he was trying to send a message about the peace process.

"He didn't intend to be such a big story," said the singer's manager, Ron Major. "But if it will advance the peace process by even one day, he will be very happy about it.

On the issues of peace and service in the military, Geffen may have voiced the unspoken concerns of the young.

For Yariv Dvir, the pace of the peace process and military service are connected.

"If I felt that I am in a system that is working for peace, then I would have no problem serving in it," said the 24-year-old student from Tel Aviv. "Today I do have a problem because I feel it is pushing something backward.

"Some sort of process began in the past four years. A fantastic thing happened, and it stopped."

El'ad Lotan, 22, is already an army veteran. "It's important to me that I should feel this government is doing the maximum for HTC peace and is not power-oriented," he said, sitting in the square in Tel Aviv where Prime Miniter Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated last year.

At the all-night Dunkin' Donuts nearby, a group of friends pondered the Geffen message. Eighteen-year-old Yonatan Tal said music is one thing, politics another.

"When I heard the election results, I thought it's better not to be here in the next four years," said Tal, who plans on joining the army. "But this is not a solution. Because if those who think differently will not be here, how can we change the situation in four years' time?"

In Jerusalem, Roni Levit and her girlfriends dismissed Geffen's remarks. They expressed a more pragmatic view of the peace process.

"As much as I am for peace and human rights," said 17-year-old Roni, "we will never be lovers with the Arabs.

"We have different mentalities. We hate each other as a people. So the most we can have, the best peace we can have is "

" that they leave us alone," said 17-year-old Shelly Malka. "And we leave them alone."

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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