Unfit to be ‘the king’: How singer Zohar Argov’s legacy continues to be whitewashed

Simply over 35 years after his dying, Zohar Argov remains to be generally known as “the king.”

At the moment, the legendary Mizrahi musician is lauded by modern singers, spoken about in reverential tones and even memorialized in road names.

Regardless of a markedly spotty private historical past, together with a conviction for rape, repeated drug violations and a number of jail sentences, Argov’s legacy just isn’t practically as controversial as one may anticipate. The truth is, he’s arguably extra standard than ever.

In the course of the years 2009-2019, three out of the ten most listened-to songs in Israel were sung by Argov, in keeping with ACUM, the nonprofit music copyright company. In accordance with the Media Forest analytics group, Argov was the 18th most played artist on the radio in Israel within the Hebrew 12 months that led to September 2022 – and certainly one of solely two deceased musicians to make the highest 20.

Argov’s reputation solely grew stronger after his dying behind bars. And whereas he’s idolized by many followers, Argov — convicted of rape, repeatedly imprisoned, and having ended his life in jail whereas going through one other rape cost – is hardly a job mannequin.

However in 2022 – even following the #MeToo motion – his music stays as standard as ever and as cities proceed to honor him with tributes, few appear to know or care about his crimes. As one Israeli radio host mentioned off the report, he personally refuses to play songs by Argov — but when he have been to publicly admit that, he felt he can be topic to a wave of criticism.

Singer Zohar Argov in 1987. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

“Israeli society has an issue. It has an excessive amount of tolerance and adaptability, and other people don’t pay a value for the heinous crimes they dedicated, whether or not singers or actors or medical doctors,” mentioned Orit Sulitzeanu, government director of the Affiliation of Rape Disaster Facilities in Israel.

Argov’s reputation endures, constructed partially on a era of Mizrahi Jews who celebrated him for giving their tradition a proud voice.

With subsequent generations by no means having absolutely come to phrases with Argov’s felony previous, many years after the performer’s dying we see echoes of his controversial legacy in Israel’s present hottest Mizrahi singer, Eyal Golan. Embroiled in a yearslong intercourse abuse scandal, Golan — with the help of his devoted followers — denies any wrongdoing, and has maintained his reputation.

If Israel’s music business can’t reckon with its previous, how can it correctly deal with its current?

Pioneering a style

Argov is extensively thought of the godfather of Mizrahi music, the once-disdained and sidelined style that immediately dominates Israeli radio stations, marriage ceremony DJ playlists and standard tradition.

“He was not the king at first, he was positively not the king – he was very, very a lot rejected by the mainstream business,” mentioned Amy Horowitz, a professor and scholar who wrote the 2010 ebook “Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic.”

Many take into account him answerable for a turning level in Israeli tradition. “To a sure extent he started the breakthrough of Mizrahi singers – which till then was very a lot exterior the mainstream,” mentioned Eran Litvin, a music editor on the Kan public radio community and a music historian.

Earlier than Argov burst onto the nationwide scene, most radio DJs in Israel refused to play Mizrahi music. Till 1982, he principally sang at weddings and in small golf equipment and dance halls. That 12 months, he carried out at and received the Mizrahi Singer Competition in Jerusalem, aired reside on TV and radio, marking a serious turning level in his profession.

“His massive break was positively 1982, and within the 5 years that adopted he launched a number of extra albums, numerous hits. Most or lots of them are nonetheless performed on the radio immediately,” mentioned Litvin.

His mainstream success was celebrated and welcomed by immigrants from Center Japanese international locations, who noticed his fame as a step towards their very own acceptance in Israeli society.

“Argov’s mass attraction is partially defined by the truth that he gave voice to the formation of a Mizrahi pan-ethnic id that fashioned as Center Japanese and North African communities interacted in ma’abarot [immigrant absorption camps] and neighborhoods,” wrote Horowitz in her ebook on Mizrahi music.

His music, Horowitz added in dialog, was touted and celebrated by “individuals who understood this energy of his – that what he had in his voice might give energy and braveness to communities being oppressed.”

However at what might have been the peak of his profession, Argov’s life got here to an finish in a jail cell in Rishon Lezion. To know how he acquired there, and the way and why his music soared in reputation following his dying, we have now to return to the start.

‘Like a Greek tragedy’

Born Zohar Orkabi to Yemenite immigrants residing in a rundown neighborhood of Rishon Lezion in 1955, the singer had a tough upbringing, with an alcoholic and abusive father and little revenue to feed and dress him and his 9 youthful siblings.

At age 17, Argov acquired married and a 12 months later had a son, which exempted him from obligatory navy service. On the day of his son’s brit mila (circumcision), Argov’s father died of suspected alcohol poisoning. To feed his household, Argov undertook sporadic menial labor and occasional performances earlier than releasing his first album in 1977 at age 22.

A 12 months later, he was arrested, tried and finally convicted of raping a younger girl after she declined an invite to go dwelling with him. He infamously advised the decide in his rape trial: “There isn’t any woman who doesn’t need it, you simply should know the way to take… there are these you need to persuade just a little, and people who you need to persuade loads.”

After round a 12 months in jail, Argov was launched and returned to recording music. His reputation grew, and he launched a number of extra albums earlier than his massive break profitable the televised 1982 competition together with his now-iconic track, “Haperach Begani” (The Flower in My Backyard).

Zohar Argov performing on the Mizrahi Track Competition in Ramle on February 5, 1985. (Nati Harnik/GPO)

“That 1982 competition that was televised to the entire nation — at a time when there was just one channel — catapulted his fame properly past the circles that used to know him,” mentioned Edwin Seroussi, a professor of musicology and the director of the Hebrew College’s Jewish Music Analysis Heart.

Seroussi mentioned Argov’s look on the competition and on TV “was actually a really distinctive second of change,” noting that immediately, Mizrahi music is “the pop music of Israel, roughly.”

And Argov, he mentioned, “was in its founding era.”

Argov’s troubled historical past didn’t go unnoticed within the quick aftermath of his massive win. Shortly after the 1982 competition, the now-defunct HaOlam HaZeh weekly newsmagazine ran a full-page spread below the headline “The Singing Rapist,” detailing Argov’s crime and conviction.

However plainly most Israelis both didn’t know or didn’t care sufficient about his previous to carry again his rocket to fame. Over the subsequent 5 years, Argov launched 5 studio albums, producing radio hits whilst he descended additional into drug dependancy and appeared to spend extra time in jail than within the recording studio.

In July 1987, whereas being launched from jail on unrelated fees, Argov stole a weapon from the Rishon Lezion police station. For that crime, he was sentenced to 6 months in jail. In October, Argov was granted a weekend furlough from jail, throughout which he encountered a lady named Iris Gabai. Argov tried to rape her, Gabai advised police, and he was transferred from his jail cell to a police jail for additional investigation.

Just some days later, on November 6, 1987, Argov was discovered useless in his jail cell, a rope made out of torn blankets and sheets round his neck. A number of individuals – together with these within the jail on the time – have advised that Argov’s suicide was truly a failed try to realize consideration from the jail guards.

Within the wake of his dying, Argov’s acclaim solely elevated. The general public mourned the singer whose life was reduce brief at age 32, and whose music had given voice to a sidelined inhabitants.

“I feel his dying – but in addition the truth that he was in jail – added to the glam that rock stars are inclined to have,” mentioned Litvin. “He was a form of rock star that lived an excessive life, from nice poverty to large success, and he grew to become a logo.”

Zohar Argov (proper) performing with different singers on the Jerusalem Hann Membership on August 10, 1987. (Gal Yehiam/Dan Hadani Assortment/Nationwide Library of Israel)

The brevity and calamity of Argov’s life solely aided in constructing the narrative of the tragic hero, observers mentioned.

“It’s like a Greek tragedy – in a means the tragedy reworked him right into a cultural hero,” mentioned Seroussi. Within the wake of his dying, he added, Argov was portrayed as “a sufferer of the system… he was designed for greatness, however the system exploited him and finally deserted him to his personal destiny.”

Canonization of a hero

His posthumous canonization was fast in coming. His songs have been re-released on tribute albums and artists gathered on the anniversary of his dying to memorialize his life. In 1992, a play about his life – titled “The King” – hit the stage in Tel Aviv. A 12 months later, an acclaimed movie, “Zohar,” performed on silver screens across the nation. Many extra documentaries, movies and TV specials have been to comply with.

“When persons are searching for this type of determine, a part of the attraction has to do together with his flaws – this hero has issues,” mentioned Horowitz. “He was handy, he was form of a Jimi Hendrix determine” – the legendary American musician who died of a drug overdose at age 27.

His dying on the peak of his fame, mentioned Litvin, helped the creation of an icon.

“It might be that if he had lived and continued to launch songs, he would simply be certainly one of many,” mentioned Litvin. “However the truth that he disappeared instantly on the peak of his success – it added one thing.”

Graffiti, depicting personalities like Zohar Argov, a well-liked Israeli singer who died in 1987, painted on partitions within the Florentin neighborhood on March 11, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

As Horowitz wrote in her ebook: “Argov’s movie star was solely attainable after his dying when the sordid particulars of his life have been muted and changed with a suitable narrative of social struggling.”

“In legendary histories about Argov, his conviction as a rapist is completely elided. In contrast, his drug dependancy is labored into the story of his elevation to hero because the tragic flaw from which society can study,” the tutorial added in a chapter devoted to Argov.

His dying made it simpler to reshape his historical past right into a extra palatable narrative.

“After his dying, he grew to become form of sanctioned determine that deserves honor,” mentioned Seroussi. “After his dying, the sins of his life have been form of forgotten – and what remained was the saintly determine of the good artist and the good voice.”

There was, nonetheless, some opposition to the myth-making of Argov. In 1993, the now-acclaimed creator Etgar Keret penned a piece within the Hadashot newspaper slamming journalist Rino Zror for saying that Argov “did nothing incorrect,” as a result of he “got here from a background the place girls give [it up freely].”

“Resisting sexual assault just isn’t the unique area of the highest 10% of society,” wrote Keret, evaluating Zror’s assertion to 1 saying that “Eichmann, for instance, didn’t come from a background of Elie Wiesel books, however from a world the place Jews have been quiet and died with out making a fuss.”

Muted reckoning

Now, 35 years have handed since his dying. However latest years have seen solely a muted reckoning over Argov’s legacy.

In 2009, the Israel Postal Firm launched an official stamp in his reminiscence. In 2015, the town of Rishon Lezion staged a mass tribute live performance to mark what would have been his sixtieth birthday that includes a number of the best-known singers in Israel. Standard non secular singer Hanan Ben-Ari’s largest hit, 2016’s “Tutim” (“Strawberries”) contains the road “it’s exhausting to sing like Zohar.”

His music is in common rotation on actuality TV music competitions: A rendition of the Argov hit “Yam Shel Demaot” (A Sea of Tears) is the track that clinched the win on “Kochav Nolad” (A Star Is Born) for Ninet Tayeb in 2003. Nearly 20 years later – with Tayeb serving as a decide – Eliav Zohar sang the track within the grand finale of “The Subsequent Star” in September of this 12 months, and received.

“It’s an important honor to do a Zohar track,” he advised the judges.

It stays unclear how acquainted the typical Israeli is with Argov’s previous, each the rape conviction and the rape allegation hanging over his head when he died. Not all these interviewed for this text – specialists within the music subject – knew the extent of Argov’s felony historical past. Many common Israelis quizzed by this reporter had no data both.

Two years in the past, standard veteran radio DJ Boaz Cohen, 58 – thought of one of the vital educated within the enterprise – tweeted that he had no concept Argov had ever been convicted of rape, including: “Most individuals I requested had no concept that Zohar Argov was a convicted rapist.”

“There are lots of people who aren’t conscious of it, actually youthful individuals,” advised Litvin. “And it’s unlucky, since you ought to know. Even in case you love an artist and he’s an unbelievable singer, if he did horrible issues it’s best to find out about it.”

It appears that evidently over the previous decade, each makes an attempt to canonize Argov in addition to the next backlash have grown louder.

Efforts to call streets and city squares after Argov have been raised repeatedly in a number of cities since his dying. A number of have opted to name streets after his most well-known track, “Haperach Begani,” as an alternative of his identify. In 2012, an attempt in Herzliya to call a road after Argov was finally shot down.

Final 12 months, the mayor of Ramle led a successful campaign to call a sq. within the metropolis after Argov, regardless of vocal opposition and extensive media protection of the controversy.

“I had hoped, however it’s exhausting to say I anticipated” that attitudes towards Argov would change following the #MeToo period, mentioned Sulitzeanu. However any actual change has to return from inside Israeli society, she added. “Till there may be societal shaming, sexual violence will proceed in all places,” she mentioned. “There should be individuals pushing for it… the one approach to make change is thru activism.”

From Argov to Golan

A number of interviewees drew a direct comparability between Argov and Eyal Golan, the vastly standard Mizrahi singer who has been embroiled in controversy for years. Golan, 51, has been questioned repeatedly over the previous decade for his function in a number of intercourse abuse scandals.

Litvin mentioned it’s simple to say of Argov that “immediately it wouldn’t work – though however, you see what occurs with Eyal Golan, who’s been accused of significant issues, and [his songs are] nonetheless performed [on the radio] and beloved. So it nonetheless occurs immediately.”

Individuals who defend Golan say that he’s by no means been convicted of sexual misconduct, mentioned Sulitzeanu, “and Zohar Argov, who was convicted, they overlook about that.”

Singer Eyal Golan acting at an Independence Day live performance in Beit Shemesh on Might 5, 2014. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Golan was investigated on allegations of statutory rape of younger girls, however finally by no means charged. In a 2014 interview, he defended his conduct by saying: “I don’t know numerous males who – whereas a lady is performing oral intercourse on them – will ask to see their ID.”

Golan’s father, Dani Bitton, was indicted and convicted in a plea deal for statutory rape of younger feminine followers of Golan whom he lured to his dwelling utilizing his son’s fame. Bitton was sentenced to 2 years in jail, and fees in opposition to Golan have been dismissed.

The fees continued to canine Golan over time, however did little to dent his mainstream reputation. However previously few months the case has returned once more to the headlines, after new complaints brought about police to reopen their investigation. Golan is predicted subsequent week to face a number of of the complainants, who allege that the singer requested they “handle” a number of high-profile pals who then raped the ladies with Golan’s data.

In 2018, Golan launched a tribute album to Argov marking 30 years because the singer’s dying, that includes posthumous duets the place Golan alternates verses with Argov.

Sulitzeanu mentioned she feels a tide is popping on the subject of public therapy of Golan and the allegations in opposition to him.

“We’re seeing a change within the public notion – to start with, once I would criticize him I might get slammed by the media,” recalled Sulitzeanu. “At the moment, once I speak about [his alleged crimes], I get again love from the media… So issues are taking place. Change could be very gradual, and it’s too gradual, however it’s taking place.”

Forty years after Argov sprang onto the nationwide stage with “Haperach Begani” – altering Israeli music without end – there isn’t a simple reply to the way to cope with his legacy.

“He’s very beloved and his songs are a lot cherished and have lasted a few years – however on the identical time, I can say that there’s an issue together with his previous,” mentioned Litvin. “I don’t have any conclusion about what must be completed – however I admit there’s an issue.”

Sulitzeanu mentioned she doesn’t have excessive expectations that Argov will ever be shunned by Israeli society.

However the least that’s wanted, she mentioned, “is to offer a disclaimer – ‘do not forget that this man was convicted of rape.’”

Leave a Comment