In New York to kick off a tour of the United States, Israeli rocker Aviv Geffen visited Columbia University last Tuesday, but not with guitar in hand. Geffen is on the road singing Israel’s praises, not his latest hits.
The scion of a prominent Israeli family (his father is poet Yehonatan Geffen; his great-uncle, Moshe Dayan), Geffen has long been not just a musician but also a committed peacenik and activist.
“I’m from the left wing, the extreme left wing,” he told the Columbia crowd. “I think [Israel] should negotiate with everyone, including Iran.”
Geffen is touring the country as a representative of the World Zionist Organization’s Hagshama Department, a division devoted to cultivating a feeling for Israel among young adults between the ages of 18 and 30. He began his tour earlier this month at Harvard University, and it will still take him to California.
After some introductory remarks in which he spelled out a few of his positions on the big issues of the day, he opened the floor to questions.
Asked whether he thought that Hamas and Hezbollah ever would accept Israel’s right to exist, Geffen said: “I think so. Eventually.”
When pressed on the causes of the recent Lebanon war, he placed the matter in a more global context. “I don’t believe the war [was about Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah vs. Israel,” he said. “I believe it’s about Iran vs. the United States.”
For some in the audience, however, Geffen’s politics were beside the point.
“I don’t know that much about his political views,” said Danielle Slutzky, president of the campus pro-Israel group LionPAC, “but I like his music.”
Geffen released his first album in 1992 and quickly rose to prominence. In a poll taken by The Jerusalem Report in 1995, he ranked as the second most popular Israeli figure in history, second only to late former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. (The poll was taken not long after Rabin was assassinated.) And Geffen’s popularity has not faded. This past March, his single “Tomorrow,” from his latest album, “With the Time,” hit number one on MTV’s World Chart Express.
The singer has mellowed a bit with age. Once known for sporting a glam David Bowie-ish look, his appearance is now more modest.
“I grew up,” he told the Forward. “I think every artist should change.” When asked if his next album would be a political one, Geffen answered, “For sure.” But then he paused, “I have to sit down and think about it.”