Israeli hip-hop star Shaanan Streett joked that his progressive perspective on Israeli society probably wasn’t reflected at the recent AIPAC policy conference.
The lead singer of Israeli hip-hop groove collective Hadag Nahash led a candid conversation on April 4 at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center.
“The first thing I want to speak about is what we call the struggle, the Israeli struggle,” said Streett. “Israel is struggling. Israelis struggle. They struggle financially and Israel’s democracy is struggling.”
Part of that struggle, he said, is finding a place in a much larger Arab world.
“Israel is the homeland for the Jews. Open a map and you’ll see Israel is in the Middle East in the heart of the Arab world. How does Israel become a part of the Arab world? How can we make that happen? So that’s another big struggle going on all the time,” Streett said.
The Jerusalemite sends his three children to the Jewish-Arab bilingual Hand-in-Hand school. And at age 44, Streett is learning Arabic himself.
“I think every Israeli should be fluent in Arabic,” he said. “I think Israelis being not fluent in Arabic is like American Jews not being fluent in English.” Jews make up 2 percent of the population in the Middle East, he said. “How can we not speak Arabic? How can we expect to be understood if we can’t understand? It just doesn’t work that way.”
The discussion was presented by the Washington Jewish Music Festival and the New Israel Fund, which works to strengthen democracy and equality in Israel.
Streett screened some of Hadag Nahash’s music videos for his Washington audience and discussed the meaning of each song.
“Most of my songs have to do with life in Israel,” said Streett, who has fronted the band for two decades.
“We call it the way we see it. We talk about what’s good and also what’s difficult.”
And how is Streett handling the wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem and across the country?
“I’m not going to belittle what’s happening in Jerusalem in terms of terror right now,” he said. “But last week there was one stabbing in all of Israel, and in D.C. there were eight stabbings. We checked the police stats today,” said Streett.
Streett said Israelis have an innate sense that everything is going to work out in the end. He said the country is “incredibly fun” with a “crazy bar scene” (Streett owns a bar called Casino de Paris in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market).
Previewing his song “Share the City,” about living in Jerusalem, Streett said that the city is not only the heart of the problem, but also the key to the solution, because non-Orthodox Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Palestinians are about equal in population.
Said Streett: “People like me — and there are a few in Jerusalem — we believe that we have everything to gain by living with each other. We believe that proximity is Jerusalem’s strongest point. Tel Aviv has a lot less Palestinians and a lot less ultra-Orthodox. The wisdom of the region is in Jerusalem. The wisdom of Judaism is in Jerusalem. And all you have to do is have some of that wisdom. It’s surrounding you all the time, and you need to be open to it. You need to embrace it.”