Omer Adam's new song, Kakdila, has caused a large controversy in Israel due to lyrics some consider to be inflammatory. As a diaspora Jew, it can be difficult to understand why it has caused such a stir. I asked Dovi Wieder, one of our Israeli Campus Shlichim, to explain why.
Dovi, why has Omer Adam's new song created a commotion in Israel?
To explain the Balagan of the song, one has to explain the socio-cultural reality in a complex and multi-tribal country like Israel. Although 78% of the Israelis were born in Israel (sabras), Israel is still affected by many waves of immigration, the variety of cultures and mentalities that different communities from the Diaspora have brought to Israel. In the case of this song, it has a pretty obvious mockery of women from countries of the former Soviet Union.
The community of people from the former Soviet Union is one of Israel's largest and most significant Aliyas. During the 1990s and into the early 2000s, more than a million immigrants from Russian-speaking areas came to Israel. The "Russian Aliyah" is considered a quality and educated community - parts of it have been integrated into the fields of science, engineering, and medicine in Israel. The Rusian-speaking Israelis are seen in the last 20 years in the Israeli flourishing high-tech industry, and they have a large number of chess grandmasters. But at the same time, there were and still are, quite a few tensions between Russian-speakers in Israel and the "older Israelis."
So what causes these tensions?
There are countless studies, documentaries and articles on this subject, but I'll try to explain in short. Some immigrants found it difficult to be absorbed into Israeli society; some found themselves living in peripheral localities and in low socioeconomic status neighbourhoods. Some continued to live in closed communities, speaking only Russian and shopping in unique places of products from the CIS countries etc. Stores of non-kosher food and even pork were opened, which challenged the "status quo policy in Israel" (the status quo is the guiding line in religion and state relations in Israel).
Among the "old Israelis", there was a fear of a high percentage (about 30%) of non-halachacly Jewish immigrants who came as entitled to the Israeli Law of Return, thanks to a Jewish grandfather or father. There was also the fear of the immigrants taking over the "old Israelis" jobs.
Sounds complex. How did the "old Israelis" actually treat the Russian-speaking immigrants?
I do not want to generalise all Israelis, but this was expressed in a dismissive attitude: contempt and use of words in Russian in a mocking way. Many stigmas were created and took root during that time. The stereotypes are related to science and culture, like that the Russian speakers are excellent in math, playing the violin and piano, chess classes, and more. Still, there are stereotypes of heavy Rusian accent and slurred Hebrew, heavy drinking of vodka and alcohol in general, and perhaps worst of all is the prostitution-like stereotype of Russian-speaking women. In the 1990s, there was a massive wave of human trafficking of Eastern European women. Those women were brought fraudulently and even by force to prostitution. Some Israelis have wrongly linked women in prostitution to immigration from the former Soviet Union. During the last decade, there were data that Russian-speaking women have suffered more sexual harassment than Israeli-born women and felt less comfortable in public spaces.
What was in Omer Adam's song that caused these strong reactions?
Blunt scorn on Russian-speaking women. The nameless girl in Omer Adam's song sounds pretty annoying; she wants you to buy her things, and if you won't, "she'll tell" Putin, she wants a vacation in Greece, she is nagging you about a wedding, and she thinks you have cheated on her. In the chorus, there is also the "she drinks" as well as her complaint that "Hebrew is language difficult" and "all day just Niet and Da" (yes and no in Russian). The worst part, in my opinion, is the line that says, "she is not certain about what's mine and what's hers". It sounds like nothing, but the word 'certain' in Hebrew (Betucha) sounds a lot like the word 'virgin' (Betula). When Omer adam sings that line, he pauses just in the middle of the word and says: "Betu...." and since the chorus rhymes that 'la' is the last syllable in many lines, the most fitting ending that comes to mind is LA which means that she is not a virgin. After the pause, Omer Adam continues with CHA, which means she is unsure, but the hint of the girl's sexuality is crystal clear to every Hebrew speaker.
How was the song received?
Some claimed he was allowed to laugh about it because his father is of some Russian descent. (Un) Surprisingly the song has already passed 2 million views on YouTube, but there are thousands of really nasty comments there, and the whole discourse has reached shallow places. Many people were very offended and wrote many angry and hurtful posts on social media. Some said that the Russian words in such context were triggering and evoked memories of the ridicule in their early years in Israel. It quickly became an item on TV and radio shows.
Neta Barzilai (who collaborated with Omer Adam on the song BEG) initially wrote that the song was catchy and addictive; however, in light of the comments she received, she said she apologises, and this event is an opportunity to learn about sensitivity.
Did any politicians criticise this song?
Only the Minister of Transportation, Merav Michaeli, the head of the Israeli Labor Party, sharply criticised the song, claiming that it was both chauvinistic and racist. MK Yulia Malinovsky of the Yisrael Beiteinu party also commented on the song and said that a popular singer like Omer Adam should have a social responsibility.
How did Omer Adam respond to the criticism?
He wrote that he and his family were of *Caucasian descent, and the song was written and performed with self depricating-humour.
*Caucasian means from the Caucasus - a geographic region in Eurasia. It is situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and is mainly occupied by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Southern Russia.