Peter Himmelman’s new music video takes on Israel-Gaza conflict

In Peter Himmelman’s  new music video of his song “Maximum Restraint,” the folk-rocker combines searing images of the conflict in Gaza with lyrics staunchly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas terrorism.

The angry, even sarcastic song has come as something of a surprise to Himmelman’s fans, who know the artist for the kind of intensely emotional, spiritual tunes that grace his new album, “The Boat That Carries Us.”

“I’ve written…love songs…lustful songs, a bunch of really sad songs…songs of longing, songs of fear, a lot of hopeful songs, some funny ones, prayerful songs…[but] this is my first war song,” Himmelman, 54, wrote in response to a fan’s comment on his Facebook page.  “Israel absolutely needs to use maximum restraint to avoid hurting civilians (something no country has been asked to do or bothers to do while under siege)…. But it also needs to defeat Hamas, to cripple, for however long, its ability to inflict more harm on the citizens of Israel.”

The chorus of “Maximum Restraint” condemns critics who have sharply decried Palestinian casualties in Gaza:  “When someone comes to kill you/In the middle of the night/Don’t try to defend yourself/Don’t use an ounce of might/Just sit there quietly and try hard not to faint/As the world calls out for – maximum restraint.”

Himmelman – an observant Jew and ardent Zionist who is the son-in-law of music legend Bob Dylan – was inspired to write the tune when an epiphany hit him while he was eating dinner on Tuesday.  “I’d read the words ‘maximum restraint’ just one too many times,” he said in a telephone interview from his Santa Monica home.  “And I thought, ‘Wait a minute, you have the ability to write a song about anything you want, so why not write about this?’  It was just this thunderbolt of inspiration.”

Himmelman immediately retreated to his studio and wrote “Maximum Restraint” in a matter of minutes; he then approached Roz Rothstein of the pro-Israel organization Stand With Us to help shoot a music video of the song the following day.  The video, which went online Thursday, features images of Hamas rockets and underground tunnels, as well as Israeli soldiers and negative newspaper headlines about the Jewish state.

Himmelman also posted a pro-Israel column  in the Huffington Post dated July 24:  “If you can say that Israel has the right to exist, then you must in the same breath say that it has the right to defend itself from a fanatical religious cult that is hell-bent on its destruction,” he wrote.   “Defending a nation isn’t pretty.  It always involves blood and gore, something we who are safely ensconced in [Los Angeles], perhaps jogging near the beach…seem to forget.  It’s so easy to take the armchair pacifist’s position when you’ve never s— your pants from the report of a rocket falling too near.”

In our interview, Himmelman described this kind of critique as “dangerous talk,” adding that “people spouting these kinds of platitudes are comfortably removed from the conflict.”

Some of Himmelman’s fans quickly condemned “Maximum Restraint” online:  “They’ve said, ‘I’ve known you as this very spiritual person, and this is somewhat of an outrage – where’s your compassion, your peace-mindedness?” he noted.  “But I’m not a militant in any way,” he added.  “I just feel the need to set the record straight.”

Anti-Semitism is behind some of the most virulent anti-Israel rhetoric, Himmelman said:  “There is this knee-jerk response that Israel should turn the other cheek, to take the hurt and the punishment and to forgo taking whatever actions are appropriate to stop it.

“Taking a stand about something that’s happening in the news right now is something I’ve never previously done,” he added.  “But for me, emotionally, not to use my platform to speak out at this time would seem disingenuous and wrong.”