Israeli rapper Yoav Eliasi, more commonly known by his stage name HaTzel (The Shadow), sat down for an interview with Ynet, covering everything from his musical career to the right-wing views he shares on social media, and things he believes the right can learn from the left.
“The political right should be ashamed, all we’re good at is swearing on Facebook,” he said. “I admire the left for their protests against the [government's proposed] judicial reform. That’s why I’m not against it. They have the right to protest. Them being allowed to is proof that Israel is still a democracy.”
A decade back, Eliasi was mainly known for his successful music career as part of a rap duo he started with childhood friend Kobi “Subliminal" Shimony, who together pioneered Israeli hip hop and helped popularize the genre in Israel.
His political activism began during Operation Protective Edge, the codename for Israel's 2014 war with Gaza Strip terrorist factions.
“I took up an Israeli flag and sang the anthem in front of people who were yelling that ‘the IDF is a terrorist army,’ and I was turned into the bad guy. I returned home and thought to myself 'I don't understand what's going on here. Am I not one of the good guys?' Turns out no,” he says.
“The media came down on me like a thunderstorm. It was insane. I took their demonization and turned it into reality. Do you want me to be bad? Tough? Think of me what you will. I’m not the kind of person who'll turn the other cheek after he’s been slapped. Hit me and I'll hit back."
Eliasi’s friends told him he'd be better off staying out of political activism.
"Everybody told me 'you're a hot potato, bro, don't touch it'. Do you know how one-sided that is? I had a good friend, a well-known actor, and when I started my activism, he told me ‘listen, I have to remove you from my friend list and block you. Your opinions are not my opinions'," he says.
But the rapper wasn’t deterred from sharing his opinions. During the most recent election cycle, he even partnered up with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in his campaign.
“I gave him exposure and a stage that you can't get with money, you simply can't. Unless you’re a billionaire. I believed in this guy before anyone could even say 'Itamar Ben-Gvir'. I saw an ideologue. I saw myself. I saw a guy who is ready to do things and said 'I'll help you, I'll get you there'," he explains.
Eliasi said the two jokingly placed a bet on the election results. “I told him we’ll get 14 Knesset seats. He laughed and said ‘I’ll be grateful if we got 6,’ I won that bet,” the rapper says triumphantly.
When asked if he was happy so far with the actions of the new government and Ben-Gvir, who were sworn in late December, Eliasi replied that “Itamar Ben-Gvir isn’t an autocrat, he’s the national security minister. He took the worst job in the world. Talk to me in a year, I'll tell you if he'd failed. So far, he’s been doing magic in his four weeks on the job,” he says.
Last month, the rapper reunited with his long-time musical partner Shimony for a much-anticipated concert after the pair agreed to bury the hatchet, ending a decade-long fallout.
Many fans believed the two will never perform together again after Shimony recently gave an interview that deeply upset Eliasi, who in turn was ready to post an incensed response on his Facebook page.
“I wrote some bad stuff about him and was a finger away from publishing it, and then I told myself, 'what the f**k am I doing?' Didn’t I have enough of all these wars and all that's been going on? I went home and dug up an old shirt of us. I put it on, I got in my car and said 'I'll turn on the camera, and whatever happens, happens'. I recorded one take, bro, whatever came out of my mouth came out, I found myself apologizing and asking for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart," he says.
“I was the one who apologized, it came from me,” Eliasi added. “It was either this or all-out war. I also think this reflects well on what’s been going on in Israel. We need to choose whether we’re going to wage war or work for peace.
In our first meeting, we looked at each other and started talking as if there never was a fallout between us. We looked at each other and I told him, 'bro, I don't want us to do shows or music together, I just want to be your friend, can I?' Two days later, we already booked a show."