Friday, July 22, 2011

I Love You Sweetheart

        In 1909, 102 years ago, composer Leo Friedman and lyricist Beth Slater Whitson, wrote a song called "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland". They sold it to the biggest music publisher in Chicago, Will Rossiter, who bought it outright for a rumored $50.00. The song swept the country and the sale of the sheet music made the publisher a wealthy man. Although there was no contractual arrangement to pay royalties, it was customary for a publisher who made huge profits on a song to share at least some portion with the writers. Rossiter refused to do so. Understandably unhappy with him, Friedman and Whitson wrote another song in 1911, which they took to another publisher who promised to pay royalties to them depending on sales. That song, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", actually became the best selling song of all time over the past 100 years. Sales of the sheet music alone, millions upon millions of copies and still in demand, as well as recordings by orchestras and singers, made the writers and the publisher independently wealthy.

        Here we are, in 2011, 100 years later, and both those songs are still popular. What's the secret of such success? In my view, it's simple words coupled with an easily sung tune expressing a heartfelt emotion that any of us can relate to. So, sing along with me.............

Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland              Let me call you sweetheart
Under the silvery moon,                          I'm in love with you.
Meet me tonight in Dreamland                 Let me hear you whisper
Where love's sweet roses bloom.              That you love me, too.
Come with the lovelight gleaming             Keep the lovelight gleaming
In your dear eyes, so true;                        In your eyes so true.
Meet me in dreamland,                             Let me call you sweetheart,
Sweet dreamy dreamland,                         I'm in love with you.
There let my dreams come true.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Israeli Democracy Index

        Each year, for the past seven years, a group called the Israeli Democracy Index (IDI), measures the performance of Israel's democratic institutions and issues an anual report card to the country's top leadership. Pres. Shimon Peres received the report card at the end of November for 2010. Israel is unique in this regard, since no other country among all the nations of the world undertakes a systematic self-examination to determine how well or poorly its institutions function.
        IDI's report for 2010 measured public perceptions of the nation through a series of national and international public opinion surveys. The report addressed internal Israeli public attitudes toward its own values and behavior, as well as Israel's majority-minority relations, citizen opinion regarding it's performance as a democracy, and Israel's performance in comparison to that of other democratic countries. Some of the findings may surprise us.
We in the U.S. tend to view Israel through the lens of America'a democratic institions, so it should come as no surprise that almost three quarters of the population (72%) say they do not trust the political parties, although most of them do not believe tha parties should be abolished. The same high percentage (70%) support and have confidence in the institution of the Presidency. (Shimon Peres is becoming increasingly popular.) More than half the people (54%) Have confidence in the Supteme Court, while 44% do not. Less than half (41%) have confidence in the police.
        With respect to democratic principles, four fifths of the Jewish population (82%) believe that medical care should be free, regardless of whether the patient has insurance, while only 40% of the Arabs feel this way. But here is a surprising statistic----only 43% of the general population feel that it is equally important for Israel to be both a Jewish and a democratic state, while 31% think the Jewish component is more important and only 20% think democracy is more important. Almost two thirds of the people (60%) believe that it would be better for Israel to have a few strong leaders than all the democratic debates and legislation, and more than half of them would prefer a government of experts who make decisions on professional rather than political considerations.
      One particular finding calls Winston Churchill to mind. He once said that democracy is the worst form of government imaginable, except for all the others. By the same token, more than four fifths of the population (81%) agree that Israel's democracy is not perfect, but that it is better than any other form of government. More than half of them believe that the country should hold observing law and public order before the ideal of democracy. On a scale of one to ten, the Jewish public rates Israel's democracy at 5.4 while immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) rate it slightly higher at 5.6 and the Arab public slightly lower at 5.1.
       More than half of Israeli veterans (56%) think that people who have never served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) should not be eligible to vote or run for public office, but a higher percentage (62%) of Russian immigrants and 76% of the ultra-Orthodox disagree. Half of the general public favors equal rights as between Arabs and Jews, but the more orthodox the group, the greater the opposition to equal rights. Only 33.5% of secular Jews oppose the idea, while 51% of traditional Jews and 65% of Orthodox Jews oppose it. Almost two thirds (62%) of the Jewish population believe that as long as the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs continues, the Arab citizens of Israel should have no voice in Israeli scurity or foreign policy decisions. Interestingly, slightly more than half (51.5%) of the overall Jewish public agrees that only immigrants who are Jewish as defined by Halakha should be granted automatic citicenship. Only one third of the Russian immigrants agree, while almost nine tenths (88%) of the ultra-Orthodox agree.
        In most international rankings, Israel follows the established democracies and ranks close to the new democracies of East Europe, Central and South America. It's standing has neither improved nor dimished in recent years. In equlity between the genders, it ranks higher than any of the new democracies. In terms of political stability, Israel ranks last among the democracies studied.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Delegitimization

        The never-ending war against Israel has entered a new phase over the past couple years, a tactic called "delegitimization", that is gaining momentum with each passing day. It questions Israel's right to exist as a Jewish nation, and even its right to defend itself against military attack. For example, when close to 200 rockets were fired on Israel from Gaza at the end of 2010, all at civilian targets, one hit the grounds of an Israeli kindergarten while parents were dropping off their children. Israel complained to the UN Security Council about this clear violation of international law and warned that it will continue to exercise its right to defend itself. In response, the UN Middle East envoy, Robert Serry, agreed that Israel has a right to self-defense, but it must be "consistent with international humanitarian law" and he urged Israel to take every "precaution to ensure Israeli forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza." This is delegitimization. Israel had been attacked, but the UN did not blame the attackers. It only defined the level of acceptable response by Israel. It amounts to a free pass for Hamas which launched the attacks and urges restraint on Israel in its own defense, which the UN urges on no other country.

         But the delegitimization campaign is not aimed at military action alone. It is aimed at almost every aspect of Israel's existence, and not only its existence as a modern state in the community of nations, but also its existence as a Jewish state with the Kingdoms of David and Solomon 3,000 years ago and the very existence of the Jewish people over the past 5,000 years. While most of the effort to deligitimize Israel has been in the international arena, thare is an increasing incidence here in the US now, mainly on college campuses and among some Christian and Muslim religious groups, as well. Especially disturbing is the incidence among some young Jewish activists, too. As recently demostrated on the distinguished "Sixty Minutes" program, Lesley Stahl questioned the existence of King David, an iconic figure who is featured so prominently in Jewish history. She did so on the very site where they are excavating King David's palace, exactly where the Bible said it was. And despite the overwhelming amount of archeological evidence corroborating so much that is recorded in the Bible, the Arabs are now insisting that the Jewish people never were connected to the land of Israel at all and that the establishment of a Jewish state there is a mistake that must be nullified.

        Many of Israel's detractors claim that Israel is guilty of human rights violations and that the Jewish state is an "apartheit" state citing its treatment of its Arab citizens, despite the fact that the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy more freedom and more rights than the Arabs of any of the 22 Arab states in that region of the world. Through an international coalition called BDS, that is, Boycott, Divestment and Sanction for Palestine, they try to organize boycotts against Israeli artists and academics to prevent them from participating in international events such as concerts or conferences, and to divest from Israeli companies or companies that do business in Israel. The goal, of course, is to undermine Israel's legitimacy.

        An important factor in the delegitimization effort was the Goldstone report, which, representing the UN Human Rights Council, accused Israel of violating international law in Operation Cast Lead. The fact that Goldstone himself subsequently repudiated the report has not deterred the UN or the Palestinians from continuing to use it as an instrument to further delegitimize Israel. The UN has referred the question of Israel's conduct in "deliberately targeting civilians" in the Gaza war to the Fourth Geneva Conventioin for Switzerland to adjudicate and to the International Criminal Court. The United States, which has veto power over any UN action, strongly objected, knowing full well that the overwhelming Islamic majorities in the UN would take similar actions against the US if it succeeds in its actions against Israel.

        Meanwhile, the Palestinians are planning to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian State, which they will declare unilaterally, in September. The General Assembly may grasnt such recognition as still another attempt to delegitimize Israel, but the US could exercise its veto power in the Security Council. If this happens, Israel's opponents would put Israel in the worst possible light and they would embarrass the US, as well. In effect, the UN is at the center of the campaign to discredit and delegitimize Israel. Why? Because the Arab states, together with the other Islamic states in the world, have an overwhelming numerical advantage. At the same time, the minority of so-called free or democratic ountries, mainly in Western and Eastern Europe, are uniformly anti-semitic and have little sympathy for the only Jewish State in the world. So the UN wages its relentless political campaign against the Jewish State and its only defender has been the US. Until now, anyway.

        As former Bristish Prime Minister Tony Blair, now the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East, said not long ago, these delegitimization efforts are "an affront", not only to Israel, but to "those everywhere, in every part of humanity who share the values of a free and independent human spirit." The best answer to those who seek to delegitimize the Jewish state, he said, "lies in the character of Israel itself, in the openness, the fairmindedness and creativity of the Israelis."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Words and Music

Every now and then someone asks me which is more important in a song--the lyric or the melody.  That's like asking which leg is more important, your right or your left.  But the question reminds me of the famous story about Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein.  She was at a party once where she heard two women talking about the musical "Showboat".
    "I just loved that song 'Old Man River' that Jerome Kern wrote," one woman said.  "Oh, no," Mrs. Hammerstein broke in, "Jerome Kern did not write that song.  What Jerome Kern wrote was "Tum,Tum. Tetum, Tum Tum Tetum'.  It was my husband, Oscar Hammerstein, who wrote 'Old Man River'."   She was right, of course.  Kern wrote the music and Hammerstein wrote the lyric and no one can say which is most important to the song's success.  The two fit together perfectly.  You cannot imagine any other words that would fit so well to that melody.  And it is this coming together of words and melody that demonstrate the musical genius in American popular songs of our era----say the first half of the 20th century.

    Another question I'm often asked is which came first,  the words or the melody.  That's  a little harder to answer.  It depends on who the composer is and who the lyricist is.  There are examples of both instances.  In another instance of the partnership between Kern and Hammerstein, when the Germans took Paris in 1941, Oscar Hammerstein wrote a nostalgic little poem mourning the loss of one of his favorite cities.  It was "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and he gave it to Jerome Kern who promptly wrote the melody that made the poem famous.   Who of us has not heard that song and ached for the people of Paris because of it?  I was in Paris not long after we liberated it in the Fall of 1944 and the song was played everywhere, no longer an ode to sorrow but now a joyful paean to triumph and liberty.

    There are examples the other way, too.  Richard Rodgers, in the first half of his musical career, worked closely with Lorenz Hart, the genius lyricist who gave us so many memorable songs.  Rodgers would compose a melody and play it for Hart who would seem to forget it immediately.  Days later he would scribble some words on a scrap of paper or an old envelope and out of that process would come such unforgttable songs as Manhattan, My Funny Valentine, The Lady is a Tramp and dozens of others.  So, in the end, who can say which is more important, the words or the music.  We can only marvel at the poets of Tin Pan Alley, as they have been dubbed, and the masters of music who, together, gave birth to American popular music.