Inauguration vocal performance canceled over debate

JERUSALEM — A new artistic scandal has developed in Israel, this time surrounding the upcoming inauguration of President Ezer Weizman Monday at the Knesset.

After a day of intense discussion on whether women could or should sing at the inauguration ceremony, Beit Hanassi director Arye Shumer informed Acting Speaker Meir Sheetrit that there would be no artistic performance during the ceremony. Shumer also said that the song, which was scheduled to be performed by a male soloist from an Israel Defense Force Education Corps vocal ensemble, would be dropped.

Instead, the only singing will be the national anthem to be sung by all Knesset members and guests.

The announcement followed a debate initiated by Shinui MK Avraham Poraz, who claimed female members of the IDF ensemble had been banned from appearing at the inauguration to avoid offending the sensibilities of religious MKs. The religious MKs, however, were not involved in the decision.

The entire Meretz faction, and several other MKs — including Poraz and several women parliamentarians — threatened to walk out if the female singers did not perform. Haredi MKs said they would have to leave during the singing. Tsomet whip Eliezer Zandberg started a petition in favor of the full ensemble.

Although Knesset clerk Arye Hahn said he thought the incident had been brought to a close, Labor MK Dalia Itzik still called on her colleagues to boycott the event, saying the decision had been forced "out of medieval and dark superstitions."

Earlier in the day, Weizman told reporters, "I suggested just singing `Hatikva,' which I think would be the most dignified thing, sung by one [male] member of an IDF troupe accompanied by a [female] pianist. The rest of the singing, by the whole ensemble without changes in its composition, should be afterward at the reception. I think this is dignified. I don't think songs other than the anthem should be sung in the plenum."

In the past, choirs have appeared in the plenum, but the mixing of men and women in the ensemble was considered less problematic as the women's voices were not dominant.