Yesterday I was flabbergasted when someone very dear to me posted a link to a video called Boycott Israel to Facebook. I thought maybe Ruti wanted us to note the awfulness of the opposition. I didn’t need that. Not first thing in the morning. So I drank my coffee and skipped past it.
But later I thought about it again, that post. I realized that’s just not Ruti’s style. So I decided to give the clip a chance and really listen to it. I clicked the play arrow.
“Oh!” I thought. “It’s that guy. The guy who raps on all the holidays.”
Now he had a name: Ari Lesser. And this clip was vastly different than the others I’d heard. It wasn’t about a holiday. It was, as the title suggested, about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) that targets Israel. But it wasn’t what you would have thought.
It was honest, polite, and very real.
The clip had the same hypnotic cadence as those I’d listened to previously, but the words were stunning: a respectful rebuttal of those who target Israel. Ari asks them to consider the bigger picture.
“Boycott Israel, if you think that’s just,
But unless you have a double standard you must,
Also boycott the rest of the nations,
With allegations of human rights violations.
We’re not perfect but if you think we’re the worst,
First take a look at the rest of the earth,
Don’t pick and choose to pick on the Jews,
Pick up the paper and read the news.”
He goes into the awful detail of it all and it’s professionally done with photos accompanying each country’s horror story. You see Tibetans in saffron robes behind the bars of their Chinese jailors. You see a dock in Japan laid out end to end in bloody slashed and slaughtered whales.
The hip hop beat is hypnotic and though you might want to pull away from the horror you find you can’t. You’re compelled to keep watching. And listening.
“Boycott North Korea I don’t think you’ll see a,
Country in the world that could be un-freer.
Boycott China, let’s not forget,
That they stole the whole country of Tibet.
Boycott Japan slaughtering thousands,
Of helpless innocent whales and dolphins.
Boycott Vietnam where they choose to use,
Drug addicts as slave to shell cashews.
Boycott Cambodia, grabbing up land,
Five million acres from the poor man’s hand.
Boycott Thailand for shutting the door,
And deporting refugees back to the war.
Boycott Burma, don’t let your cash slip,
Into the grip of that military dictatorship.
Boycott India, women can’t escape,
When the government officials are guilty of rape.
Boycott Pakistan, crazy country,
Where they execute people for blasphemy.
And boycott Afghanistan opium land,
Where poppy fields stand in the Taliban’s hand.”
What could I do when confronted with this awesome clip but try to find out more. I went to youtube to read the “about” section and bingo. There was Ari’s address. I wrote and asked for an interview.
I just got off the phone with him and here’s what he had to say.
V: There’s something very similar about all your raps. They’re hypnotic and the melody lines seem all the same. Is this purposeful?
Ari Lesser: (Sings the first lines from several of his clips and I realize what an idiot I am. They don’t sound the same at all—I’m just ignorant of his genre. I tell him that.) “All hip hop is in 4/4 time. It’s flexible. And I’ve been making music for a long time. I can jam with the bands and play with other people. It’s very easy for me to adjust and play my music in almost any situation that might come up.”
V: You seem like a spiritual guy. Would you say there’s spiritualism in your music? Kabbalah (mysticism)?
Ari Lesser: Well, I wasn’t raised orthodox but my parents are spiritual and my mom is very interested in Kabbalah. I became a baal teshuva (returnee to Judaism) four and a half years ago. I did a lot of learning on my own at first, and then I went and studied at a yeshiva in Tzfat (Safed), so you get a lot of that there. But Kabbalah is really vast and Tanach (Scripture) is my most important interest in Torah learning. Before I go to the sod (secret), I like to really learn the simple meaning of things. In some ways, I feel it doesn’t get much better than the Chumash (Pentateuch). We don’t need to go past that.
V: This video is so different from your others. The first one that is political. How did that happen?
Ari Lesser: I was contacted by an organization called Here is Israel. It’s a new organization and this clip was part of their launch. They want to create content that will appeal to college students to counter all the anti-Israel propaganda.
I felt that if I left there would be nobody to speak for Israel.
Look, I went to the University of Oregon. I consider myself a pretty liberal person. I took a class there called Israel-Palestine. I was pretty shocked to see what was going on there. In fact, after a couple of weeks, the professor dropped Israel from the name of the course to make it only “Palestine.” All the Jewish students dropped out. Except me.
I felt that if I left there would be nobody to speak for Israel.
I’m actually not a combative person and I know that the government of Israel has its faults. It’s not a Torah government founded on Torah principles.
So I looked like a right wing nut job even though I’m middle of the road, if not leaning to the left, honestly. That just showed me how serious the need was on campus for a voice for Israel.
This organization approached me and asked me to be a part of this. I was already well aware of [the demonization of Israel], already had been on a college team on the front lines trying to do this work. They had subjects that they wanted songs about. For this song they just said, there’s this movement on campus about boycotting Israel, BDS, you know? And we want you to sing something about this.
Okay, I thought, let’s look at the double standard of this boycott. Other people take a different approach: “Look at how great this Israeli product is or that innovation…” There are any numbers of approaches but my approach was: flip it back. And it’s serious. There are things that are messed up about Israel and they’re not good and I don’t like that and I’m not happy that the Israeli people are represented by that, but if you are going to boycott Israel then you’ve got to be serious about the other countries that are doing bad things.
Look at China, it’s 100-fold worse in terms of occupying people, look at the occupation of Tibet, or in terms of the enslaving of people to work in sweatshops. It’s huge. It’s just not comparable. So while Israel gets this bad rap for some of its actions the UN won’t even breathe near these other countries. China’s too big, too dangerous.
Maybe some people would go all the way and go and live on their own sustainable farms and boycott everyone. So let them. And if they want to boycott Israel and all those other places, so more power to them. But otherwise, leave Israel alone.
V: What about the title? Who came up with that? You know what I thought didn’t you? I thought you were one of them.
Ari Lesser: The title was my idea. They were very concerned about it. But now you can see why I chose it. I wanted a hook. I wanted people who might not accidentally watch this video to watch it on purpose. And if they Google “boycott Israel,” hopefully it’s the first thing that pops up (laughs).
V: How old are you Ari?
Ari Lesser: I’m 26, turning 27 in a couple of weeks.
V: Are you single?
Ari Lesser: (bashful) Well, I have someone. Hopefully soon, B’ezrat Hashem.