Israeli officer tries to ban peace songs for soldiers

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JERUSALEM — Less than two months after he took command of Israel's National Defense College, Maj.-Gen. Ya'acov Amidror has come under fire for trying to censor peace songs in the Israeli Defense Force.

The incident took place when an IDF troupe was recently performing the melancholy "The Children of the Winter of '73," followed by the hopeful "I Give You My Promise."

Amidror reportedly took the stage afterward and declared to the audience that these songs should not be sung anymore.

"The words in these songs are a lie. It is a lie to promise a `dove with an olive branch,' and no one ever promised that this will be the very last war," Amidror reportedly said, paraphrasing the lyrics.

When Israel Radio broke the story Monday, the furor was not long in coming. Left-wing legislators called for Amidror's dismissal as a myopic militarist, while right-wing politicians came to his defense.

The debate underscores not only the sensitivity over censorship of songs, but the battle over symbols in a country in transformation.

The incident took place in a closed-door seminar on the 25th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.

After Amidror's comment, there was reportedly silence in the halls.

Before taking his current post, Amidror had been a top intelligence officer and spent the past two years as Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai's military aide.

Amidror, an observant Jew, has made the news in the past with his blunt comments. In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, he criticized secular culture and said "secular Jews are nothing but Hebrew-speaking gentiles."

He later apologized, saying that he deeply regretted his words and that his intention in the interview had been to open a dialogue.

Amidror did not grant interviews Monday.

Meretz Party's Yossi Sarid and Ran Cohen called for Amidror's dismissal, saying that education of the IDF's top people shouldn't be put into his hands.

Justice Minister Tzahi Hanegbi backed Amidror.

"I don't think this should be turned into a political argument. Maj.-Gen. Amidror is free to express his opinion," he said.

But even Hanegbi said Amidror was mistaken in trying to censor a song.

Yehoram Gaon, who made the song "I Give You My Promise" famous, took offense.

The song was written during the darkest days of the Yom Kippur War by Haim Hefer, and Gaon sang it on the battlefields to give hope to the soldiers and the public. Hefer meant the song as a prayers of hope, not a promise, Gaon told Israel Radio.

"It's nonsense. What? Should we be realists and sing: `Don't delude yourselves. There will always be wars in our burning country?'"