My original plan was to dedicate this week’s article to Big Brother Assad – one
of the last surviving non-monarchic, secular dictators in the Arab world – who
despite the war crimes he is apparently committing against his own people might
well survive three years of civil war.
Once again we are reminded that
contrary to what President Barack Obama said on Saturday, it is might rather
than right that wins battles, and at the moment Assad has the full backing and
active commitment of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, while the medley of opposition
forces have the hesitant backing of some of the Gulf States, and of a
self-righteous and psychologically impotent West.
Though Assad the father
and Assad the son gave Israel 40 years of quiet on its northeastern border,
today there is no promise that if the latter manages to survive the current
upheaval, this quiet will continue. On the other hand, if he loses, the chances
of militant Islamic forces taking over are much greater than of liberal secular
forces doing so, and unlike the situation in Egypt where the army remains
independent and powerful, if Assad falls, the Syrian army will disintegrate, and
only God knows what will follow.
So all that is left for us to do at the
moment is to sit tight, keep our gas masks handy (in the event that the
Americans finally pull themselves together and attack), and pray that the
outcome will be the lesser evil – whatever that might be. There is really not
much more that can be said.
So from Big Brother Assad to the Big Brother
program on TV Channel 2, which came to a rather glorious ending last
Let me start off by saying that in my opinion Big Brother-type
reality TV shows, wherever they take place (and this format has taken root in
numerous countries the world round) are an inferior, yellow form of
entertainment, but nevertheless one that enjoys the highest viewing rates – in
Israel we are talking about 30-40 percent! However, in the process of selecting
participants for the show – usually but not invariably a mixture of
attention-seeking freaks, misfits and not-too-bright “beautiful” people – every
once in a while the production casters actually come up with characters who have
something serious to say for themselves.
In the fifth season of “our” Big
Brother, two such persons actually reached the finale.
After the winners
of the three previous shows were all rather confused but lovable young Mizrahi
men, the two finalists this time were the stunningly beautiful Ethiopian model
Tahunia Rubel (who without doubt surpasses Israel’s Ethiopian beauty queen
Yityish Aynaw in her looks), and the vivacious, golden-hearted Ashkenazi lesbian
Levana Gogman – both strong-willed, determined young women, who refuse to
pretend that it is raining when they are being spat upon.
It is not at
all clear how in a racist and homophobic society like ours, the finalists were
an Ethiopian and a lesbian. Undoubtedly, the unbridled male-chauvinist, racist
and homophobic outbursts of two other housemates on the show – Roni and Gili
Maili - had an effect. The Mailis (father and son) were both ousted in turn from
the show by the production for their extreme verbal abuse of Tahunya, Levana and
another lesbian housemate, and the final outcome was certainly a manifestation
of poetic justice.
It should be noted that when the Mailis poured out
their venom, the most the other housemates did was to protest weakly and
politely, only to be ignored by father and son, who seemed possessed.
light of the open support enjoyed by the Mailis among the general public (there
were more complaints to the production about their being ousted than about the
verbal abuse they spouted), and the fact that the outspoken, “sound and fury,”
hard-as-nails Tahunia emerged the final winner, despite the fact that she was
constantly being voted against by the housemates as a candidate for eviction –
leaves some open questions regarding possible manipulation by the production to
ensure a certain outcome, or at least the general direction of the
Outside Big Brother the final outcome would have been completely
different. In daily life there is no production crew to stop the know-it-all,
smart-alec male chauvinists from terrorizing their surroundings. On the one
occasion in which I was forced to confront the phenomenon in my official
capacity in the Knesset, the reaction of my superiors, including the Knesset
director general, was: “it is below your dignity to react to this idiot,” and
the man in question (also a Knesset employee) was not even confronted, never
mind reprimanded. Outside the Knesset I have frequent encounters with such
characters, who seem to flourish in all parts of our society.
graffiti that welcomed Levana when she returned to her parents’ home, which
read: “Lesbians do not win” and “God hates Lesbians,” undoubtedly reflects the
daily reality that she lives in, much more than the personal affection that she
elicited from the public that voted for her (with or without intervention by the
Tahunia, with the NIS 1,000,000 she won, will
undoubtedly be more protected in the glamorous world of modeling, which will
certainly embrace her now more than ever before, and in the predominantly
Ethiopian neighborhood in Beit Shemesh in which she lives (for the time being)
with her family.
However, her experience in the Big Brother house brought
back to her very concrete memories from her childhood, when she was forced to
assume the Hebrew name Michal, and was discriminated against because of the
color of her skin.
It is an undisputed fact that among the Jews in
Israel, the Ethiopians are still at the bottom of the social food chain, with or
without an Ethiopian beauty queen, an Ethiopian winner of Big Brother, and an
Ethiopian Lady Macbeth at the Cameri Theater.
Finally, despite the
inferiority of the Big Brother genre, if only the outcome of the fifth season
were the reality.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.