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Viral Zionism

How an Israel-promoting web-video phenomenon bloomed in Latin America

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A scene from “En Tus Tierras Bailaré.” (

The music video appeared, without much fanfare or explanation, in April. Its three stars—La Tigresa del Oriente and La Pequeña Wendy, both from Peru, and Delfín Hasta El Fín, from Ecuador—all populist specimens of unironic camp, were already YouTube stars. Maybe that’s why “En Tus Tierras Bailaré,” an inexplicable, Spanish-language musical tribute to the beauties of Israel, with a title that translates to “In Your Lands I’ll Dance,” has effortlessly racked up nearly 4 million views and spawned countless tributes and parodies. But where did it come from? Why did three South Americans team up to sing about their love for Israel and their plans to dance in Jerusalem? And why does the video superimpose their dancing on shots of the Tel Aviv skyline and—of all things—Hamantaschen?

Some commenters saw a Zionist conspiracy (when they weren’t expressing disdain for the video’s “bad taste”). But could the Israeli government, or any sympathetic organization, have masterminded something so anarchic, brazenly neglecting to tout Israel’s holy sites and instead pitching the Azrieli Mall highway bridge? Another theory: Maybe the artists were spontaneously moved by their love for Israel on their way home from an evangelical church. Yet others speculated it was all a big prank staged by an Israeli backpacker trawling the Incan ruins of Peru, who thought it’d be funny to juxtapose their song with footage of the Tel Aviv pride parade.

In truth, credit (or blame, if you prefer) lies with a different set of rootless cosmopolitans: several creative-class Argentine Jews (and one quarter-Jew) living in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and New York, only one of whom has actually been to Israel, and none of whom even met the singers during the video’s production. Their intention, these impresarios say somewhat vaguely, was to fight preconceived notions that Israel is a sad and scary place.

“It’s not a song in favor of Israel,” said Gastón Cleiman, an advertising man in Buenos Aires who wrote the song’s lyrics and who, along with Sebastian Muller, dreamed up the idea. “It’s a song against prejudice.” Cleiman is freelancer; Muller works for an interactive firm in Madrid whose clients include Nike and Coca-Cola. Both men swear the project was their own initiative, with neither official money nor messaging. The music was written by Gaby Kerpel, another Argentine Jew, who also scored De La Guarda and Fuerza Bruta and is part of a Latin electronic collective known as Zizek and performs reinterpreted Colombian cumbia under the alter ego King Coyo, and the video was directed by Picky Talarico, better known for directing Latin mega-stars’ videos and high-profile commercials.

It started with Muller and Cleiman, who were channeling their mutual obsession with the millions-strong YouTube sensations Wendy (who, at 8, recorded sugary-voiced videos about her thirst for breast milk and beer), La Tigresa (a surgically enhanced hairdresser from the Peruvian Amazon fond of leopard print and reborn as a singer at 65), and Delfín, an amiable but stone-faced Ecuadorean whose first rise to his feet in indignation had been for a disco-beat ode to 9/11.

“One sees them and is seduced,” Cleiman said, speaking in Spanish. “These are things upon which you cannot force reason, because then surely you will find defects. But the truth is, you cannot stop watching them.”

“I feel they are doing something new that relies on authenticity,” Muller, who studied film at Tel Aviv University, told me earnestly, in Hebrew. “They haven’t learned the rules of how to communicate with images. It’s a kind of dogma without consciousness.”

Muller conceded that some of the singers’ fan base was ironic or mocking. “For many people, the combination of authenticity, of pop-culture kitsch and the bizarre is an ugly aesthetic,” he said. “But once you break from your prejudice, you can get to a different approach. Once you break those barriers, you are free.” He likened the process of changing one’s perception of the video—in part because of its pure addictiveness—to changing one’s view of Israel.

That’s the argument he presented to the singers, too. “They also had preconceived notions about Israel,” Muller said. “So, we said, what do they think when people write negative things about them on the Internet?” All three signed on.

This time, parts of the Internet responded with enthusiastiasm, bringing the performers unimagined international fame and tributes. The breathlessly heralded “pasito de Delfín” dance in “En Tus Tierras Bailaré” has spawned homages by someone in an Iron Man costume in a park, by well-off children in a kiddie pool, and by at least one woman in drag.


Sitting in a Manhattan bar, Talarico, the video’s director, recalled how pleased he was when Muller forwarded him YouTube comments complaining that the video looked like the work of a beginner student, and a not very good one.

Talarico’s usual clients are the likes of Julio Iglesias, Nelly Furtado, and Juanes, but when Cleiman called and asked him to recommend a director for “En Tus Tierras Bailaré,” Talarico volunteered himself.

“I have this concept of art as being when you manage to do something without your mind interfering, without being led by preconceptions and prejudices,” he said. “For me, there’s always an opinion, there’s always self-consciousness. I think these people don’t have that. So, I think they’re true artists.”

Cleiman had written the lyrics to Kerpel’s music on a boat to Uruguay, trying to mimic the imperfect rhyming and simplicity of the singers’ previous work. “I’m trying to remember a phrase of Picasso’s—It took many years for me to learn how to paint like a child,” he said.

All of them had labored to make themselves invisible, befitting a video that Alma Guillermoprieto, writing on the New York Review of Books blog, saw as evidence of “the chaotic transformation of a culture that has always had an infinite and joyful capacity for self-invention. This is not outsider but insider art of the deepest sort, forged in a hot-hot crucible, and it is we who stand on the outside, peering wistfully at the screen.” For the Argentines involved, cultural insiders by profession but arguably outsiders as Jews and in a country that has always held itself apart from Latin America, the wistful peering was in awe, at footage shot in Peru and Ecuador by local directors given only the loosest instructions.

“After 200 music videos and 400 commercials, it was like an undoing,” said Talarico. “A deconstruction.”

He intentionally used footage of Israel that defied logic. “If we were doing a corporate video for Israel and we had a voice-over saying, ‘Visit Jerusalem,’ then fine, we use Jerusalem. But this was not like a video of a party where you can see the brand of whiskey.” It’s not clear to him whether the video changed the way anyone thinks about Israel, but it doesn’t really matter that much to him. “With Israel, there’s something in my blood”—he has a Jewish grandparent—“but if someone had approached me to do this video for Afghanistan or Argentina, I would have done it too.”

Meanwhile, the video’s wild success has meant the artists now have mobility beyond the virtual. La Tigresa has already been brought to Buenos Aires by a party promoter, where patrons at a chic restaurant she ate in burst into “En Tus Tierras Bailaré,” where she was stopped in the street for photos and hailed as a gay icon. Kerpel wants to collaborate with Wendy Sulca. Agencies are calling Cleiman and Talarico, seeking to tap this confusing enthusiasm.

And Muller is seeking partners or donors for a worldwide tour that would span Latin America, Miami, New York, and end up in Israel. “That’s our dream and their dream,” he said. “They already know a lot about the country because we showed it to them. And they have a connection. But they want to be there physically.”

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So much effort after the fact to make sense out of something that may make no sense, or at least have no pretense. Is this “dogma without consciousness?” I don’t think that it’s dogma at all. (Na-nach videos showing adherents chanting their mantra about R. Nachman wearing funny hats may have some dogma, at least.) It reminds me of karaoke from Japan (vs Korea, etc.) where one is singing Beatles song to words superimposed on windmills in Holland and Masai warriors jumping dancing.

Esther says:

Talking about the lack of good musical taste….

awesome catchy song and what a great service they did for israel, more than all the geniuses at the israeli goverment and ad agencies employed to postion israel in a better place in mass media. my congrats to these guys.

so in the end, it was indeed kind of wink-wink ironic… kinda sucks the perceived spontaneity right out of it…

even so, i am forever devoted to La Tigresa.

WHOA. I just watched the video. La Tigresa looks like Charo and Jocelyn Wildenstein quashed together in a panini press. And I am SO not clicking on that “breast milk” link.

Hershl says:

Anything to promote Zionism is good.

The West is over run with pro-Arab, pro-terrorist lobotomized nutcases.

Kol ha kavod l’am yehudi v’ artsenu.

Miriam Freund says:

Truthfully, I didnt look to analyze or sit in judgement of this creation. I just sat back and enjoyed it…..different it is, for sure.

Isabella Overington says:

Because we are clever, as my grandma would say.

The internet is so full of anti-Israel material, this can only be better!

Rachel says:

Zizek is has a Jewish member? Of COURSE it does. Of course. I can’t believe I just learned this now. THIS IS BLOWING MY MIND.

Tigues Silva says:

Qué bonito…very beautiful and clever, a shot on prejudice. Let’s spread smiles on and around Israel.

Si. Que bonito!

If one read the writings of the Zionist leaders – one would find that they’re the greatest anti-Semites.

I, on the other hand, like to call them ‘Racists hiding behind anti-Semitism.

cockneydoll says:

Excellent and good PR for Israel

La Verdad says:

Makes a lot o sense. The 4 largest concentrations of Jews in the world are: The US, Israel, France and then … Argentina

Cindy Reuters says:

The world’s largest “Mind Control” machinery is the “manipulated Christianity” and today revealed the completely-Jew-controlled Church is the performed weapon, it still uses and threatens all of humanity, the type of devastating threat is directed not only against the poor true real Christians, on the contrary, since the Jews hate all humanity, urskilningslös extinction honest figures worldwide. That is the NWO-labeled beast nature, the so-called Talmudian Jewish fanaticism historically experimented, progressive intellectuals massacred now, this true Jewish imperialism shits into both the church and of course poor Jesus … The Assassin of Jesus is a big shame on Humanbeing if we account the Jews too a kind Human! It’s a big crime; but it’s not the only one work(!) of thus two-legged virus’… There are systematically massacres and assassination scandals, always engineed by Jews. They still eliminate the honoured characters, holy and faithful defenseless persons everywhere… Jews do such sadistic acts like a kind “traditionally profession” throughout history, continue to use the new modern computerized methods, parallelly with the true worshiped of Satan’s orders … As you are witnessing to those who turn out to be behind the big lies / manipulation, distortion of history, occupation / war / looting and robbery empty pedophilia markets, systematic importing of sioni-sect-related recruited criminals … Why Jews need to keep the media in their own hands in order to maintain the “mind control” power over society so that the squeaky way further eliminate all forms of intellectual … That is the true living history … And we are allihiop bode victims and witnesses living in this Orwellian-like pig-farm-system …

medinauta says:

At the beginning of the video, the people on tv are telling what they think about Israel, and of course their perception of it is one of a sad, fearful, at war, on chaos, danger and full of bombs place, that explains Delfin’s screaming “IT CAN’T BE. NOOO”. And the lyric is trying to explain the beauty of Israel, a place where people can walk, fall in love and sing, praising also the beautiful places, the nice people and all the flavors, at the end there is the invitation “LATIN AMERICA: COME CLOSER TO ISRAEL”

ed karesky says:

I would laugh at the comments by Cindy Reuters but I was taught not to make fun of the mentally ill.

Jorge Pereira says:

Cindy Reuters just needs a night of good sex.

Yael Taubman says:

Oy Vey! are there still luny-tunes like cindy reuters around? oh yeah…too many. how does a person come up with so much unbelievable crap?
Maybe she owns Reuters news which also writes
crap about Israel and Jewish things. OMG! Sorry folks, I am truly shocked.

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I’ve said that least 1607474 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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You made a number of good points there. I did a search on the issue and found the majority of folks will agree with your blog.


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Viral Zionism

How an Israel-promoting web-video phenomenon bloomed in Latin America

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