Vol. 51: 'From the river to the sea….'
Better chants for Palestinians— and Jews
When Hamas terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel on October 7 to kill, maim, rape, and kidnap 1,200 unarmed senior citizens, women, and babies, pro-Palestinian activists from London to Rome to Washington celebrated this humanitarian gesture by chanting, “From the river to the sea/ Palestine will be free.”
And after Israel’s defense forces retaliated by bombing Gaza and killing more than 22,000 Palestinians— terrorists and civilians alike— Palestinian protesters in Philadelphia gathered outside an Israeli restaurant to chant, “Goldie, Goldie, you can’t hide/ We charge you with genocide.”
A day or so later, the same protesters showed up outside the 56-story Comcast Center in Philadelphia with a new variation of the same chant, this one directed at the media conglomerate’s Jewish chairman: “Brian Roberts, you can’t hide/ We charge you with genocide.” Here the audience was more receptive— if there’s one thing Americans of all colors and creeds share, it’s contempt for their cable TV provider— but when Roberts declined to appear despite a half-hour of chanting, the protesters quietly packed up and went home.
American Jews interpreted the initial “river to the sea” chant as a call for Jewish genocide, since that territory is currently home to 7 million Jews. (In Congress, where Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is the sole Palestinian, she was censured by her colleagues for endorsing this slogan on the House floor.) And those same touchy Jews perceived the second chant outside Goldie’s restaurant as a reprise of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Hitler’s fans smashed the windows of Jewish shopkeepers for the heinous crime of choosing the wrong ancestors.
On the other hand, I— a journalist of Jewish descent— reacted to these pro-Palestinian chanters by pondering three key questions:
1. Who’s writing their material?
2. What’s their exit strategy? That is, how do they get off the stage gracefully once they’re done chanting?
3. How can Jews best respond to these chants?
Lessons from the Palestra
I may be uniquely qualified to solve this quandary. As a Penn undergrad in the ‘60s, I spent many winter nights attending college basketball games at the Palestra. Often the most memorable part of the evening was not the game itself, but the ingenious and sometimes spontaneous call-and-response chanting conducted between the fans of one team and their rivals across the floor. For example:
Villanova fans: “We’re Number One! We’re Number One!”
St. Joseph’s fans: “Number One what? Number One what?”
Villanova fans: “You’ll find out! You’ll find out!”
Also unforgettable were the painted paper banners, unrolled by fans in the hope of responding to their rivals’ banners. For example (from a game between St, Joe’s and LaSalle):
St. Joseph’s banner: “Hawks blast Explorers into orbit.”
LaSalle response banner: “Cute, wasn’t it?”
St. Joseph’s banner (referring to LaSalle’s school colors): “What’s blue and yellow but mostly yellow?”
LaSalle response banner: “Is that what the Jesuits teach you?”
In the competitive chanting business, two points seem clear. First, the essence of drama is conflict. If you want to dramatize your cause by chanting, find a rival chanter instead of just chanting into a void. Who would have watched Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel arguing about movies on “Sneak Previews” if the show offered just Ebert or Siskel alone?
Second, American Jews and American Palestinians share at least one common trait: Both groups pine for their ancient homeland, but neither is quite ready to abandon the good old U.S. of A.
My solution: Replace tiresome one-sided chanting with genuinely responsive chanting. That way, Palestinians and Jews alike will get to vent and stimulate the creative side of their brains without ever leaving the States. And their audiences will be huge.
Goldie, Goldie, you can’t hide.
We charge you with genocide.
Your plaintive chant strikes us as crude.
Come inside and have some food.
Once you’ve tasted our falafel,
Then your rhymes won’t seem so awful.
Better still, enjoy our hummus.
And you’ll wonder: Who needs Hamas?
On this point you mock our wishes,
Commandeering Arab dishes.
You took our land, but tell us, please,
Must you steal our recipes?
We haven’t done that in the least:
We too come from the Middle East.
So have a seat and slake your thirst.
But don’t forget: We got there first.
Our response would be: “So what?”
People move around a lot.
That’s no answer to our question,
Just a cause of indigestion.
We’re not serving shish kebab.
As we see it, that’s your job.
And we’d sooner fight Big Pharma
Than steal a dish like your shawarma.
Let’s break bread and lay tefillin.
That’ll take our minds off killin’.
Pardon us if we sound skittish:
Could you translate that from Yiddish?
One small question, maybe silly:
Why are you folks here in Philly?
We’ve got strong ties in this area
(Which we can’t say for Samaria).
No way can we live in Gaza
And Donald Trump has sold the Plaza.
As for moving to Judea,
That’s bad soil for onomatopoeia.
So the root of this debate
All boils down to real estate?
We just want a little land.
Is that so hard to understand?
We survived our Diaspora
With nothing but our wits and Torah.
OK, OK— you folks are smart,
But now we ask you: Where’s your heart?
Forgive us for this slight digression:
What’s the cause of your depression?
Truth to tell, here’s what we think:
You don’t need land— you need a shrink.
Beneath our tough talk, can’t you see,
What we need is empathy?
Just give us a chant that’s snappy.
This one always makes us happy:
“From the river to the sea
Palestine must be free.”
Over here or over there?
The Jordan or the Delaware?
We love our ancient land in theory
But all that desert makes us leery.
On top of all our other woes,
Who needs sand between our toes?
If you hope to build a nation
You must master irrigation.
Otherwise, you’re doomed to failure.
Why not move down to Australia?
Next, you’ll send us to Somalia.
Go play with your genitalia!
If this dream of yours comes true,
What do you propose to do?
Drive Israelis to the brink.
Then you’ll pause a bit and think?
Nobody will have to leave.
Y’all can stay in Tel Aviv.
Better still, within your reach,
How about Miami Beach?
Something’s missing from your speeches:
Is this what your Prophet teaches?
Now we’re angry. Boo and hiss!
Leave Muhammad out of this.
Sorry we’ve upset you, guys.
Permit us to apologize.
But why fight us? Why not, you know,
Join hands against our common foe?
You mean we should attack Christianity?
For chanters, that would be insanity.
There’s no word that rhymes with Jesus,
So, if we tried, we’d sound egregious.
Every poet knows this news:
No word rhymes as well as Jews.
Wait— do you mean all these antics
Are just a matter of semantics?
Our centuries of persecution
Can be chalked up to elocution?
Hadn’t thought of it, but yes!
Guess that’s why the world’s a mess.
If we could find a chant in common,
We might even halt the bombin’.
We’ve both been acting like such jerks.
Try this slogan— hope it works:
“From the suburbs to the sea,
Philly is the place to be.”
On that point, we both agree.
See you soon— say, half past three?
Enjoy Dan Rottenberg’s new memoir, The Education of a Journalist: My Seventy Years on the Frontiers of Free Speech. You can also visit his website at www.danrottenberg.com
To browse the complete archive of Dan’s past columns: Click Here!
Thanks for reading Contrarian's Notebook, by Dan Rottenberg! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.