Only two short weeks till the Israeli election and it’s become the political equivalent of the Silly Season.
Balad, the Israeli Palestinian political party with three MKs (including Haneen Zoabi), prepared a hilarious campaign commercial that featured Palestinian performers singing the Ha-Tikvah (national anthem). For the most part, it was even a straightforward rendition of the song. No words were changed.
Of course there was one small catch: as the song was played a bunch of mincing marionettes representing the crème de la crème of the Israeli far-right danced across the screen with Avigdor Lieberman chief among them. The video is meant as a satire of Lieberman’s bill requiring Israeli Palestinian citizens to swear an oath of loyalty to Israel and sing the national anthem. The actual singing of HaTikvah in the video is meant to satirize the legislation.
Here is how Ali Abunimah translated the Lieberman puppet’s statement:
“I have become convinced of the need to change the anthem a bit so that the Arabs can learn it and sing it.” The gag is that the altered version Lieberman and other right-wing politicians perform is simply the same Zionist lyrics to an Arab beat.
The Knesset election committee banned the ad as insulting to Israeli icons. They were referring to the anthem (which wasn’t insulted at all) but might just as well have been referring to Lieberman (who was).
As I tweeted about this story, this proves that nations descending into authoritarianism have lost their sense of humor. In the face of petty tyrants like Lieberman, humor becomes the ultimate subversion. Democracies tend to be able to laugh at themselves without going to Defcon 4.
The Shas Party, which represents Israel’s Mizrahi community, aired a very different TV commercial. Their’s displayed all the racism and intolerance for which Israel has become so well-known. But not intolerance against Palestinians, as you might expect. No, Shas saves its worst salvos for its fellow Jews: in this case the Russian Jews who’ve emigrated to Israel over the past 20-30 years. Just when you thought that some of the worst of the prejudice against them in Israel might be subsiding, along comes “nativists” like Shas to prove you wrong.
In this video, an Israeli Jewish groom stands under the chupa with his blonde Russian bride to be. He looks puzzled at a machine sitting in front of him (under the chupa) and asks what it is. She replies in chirpy, mangled Russo-Hebrew, it’s a fax. Why do we need a fax, the groom asks dumbfounded? Because, she replies, I’m expecting my certificate of conversion any second. No sooner do the words escape her mouth than the fax spews out her certificate which magically confers Jewish status upon her and allows her to marry her Israeli Jewish husband. The camera lingers at the end at the still-shocked husband, who appears not to have known what he was getting himself into.
You’d think in a country with as much ethnic division as Israel it wouldn’t need to manufacture such slime as this. But mistrust and alienation seems to be the coin of the realm in latter-day Israel. Just like in 19th and early 20th century immigrant America, the guy who got here just after you is low man on the totem pole and yours to kick around.
What better way to kick Russians around than by claiming they aren’t even Jewish? Not to mention that this reinforces the worst tribal influences of both the Russian and Mizrahi communities, who see such hatred and turn to each other and say: You see, I told you so. Then they go into the voting booth and vote for the worst representations of their own ethnic community, because they think they will somehow be strong and stand up against those among your fellow Israelis who hate you.
Shas, harping on the prejudices of its constituency, has never been a Party of ideas or values. It has no ideology nor does it seek to rule. It exists to dole out patronage. In this, it’s more like the old Tammany Machine than a modern political party. It controls the Interior Ministry which enables it to harass gay and mixed (Jewish and non-Jewish) couples seeking to make aliyah who don’t “pass muster.” Shas minister Eli Yishai has done this repeatedly along with launching some of the most disgusting, racist salvos against African refugees. But as you can see from the video, Shas’ stock-in-trade is precisely this sort of divisive racist rhetoric. It has no particular vision of what being Israeli means. So it replaces that with a vision of Israel as a series of ethnic enclaves, each crawling over the other for the few scraps it can scrape up. It’s Darwinian Zionism.
Whenever I publish the results of a poll showing the extent of racism inside Israel there are those who dispute or deny the findings. This ad only serves to prove the polls right.