From the media’s ‘gotcha’ grip to Zionist fulfillment

Center Field: "In a world obsessed with trivial pursuits, few presidents and prime ministers can avoid all idiotic controversies."

By GIL STERN STERN TROY
May 21, 2013 21:37
A BUDO for Peace performance at Kfar Shmaryahu. Participants included Jews and Arabs.

Martial arts peace performance Budo 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Eldad Maestro/Budo for Peace)

Despite Israel’s tough challenges, which demand substantive debate, too many reporters distract, sensationalize and trivialize instead. Rather than deliberating on how to balance the individual freedom needed to prosper economically with the collective responsibility needed to thrive communally, the press prefers irrelevant exposés about prime ministerial expenses.

Amid most Israelis’ frustrations with an overly demanding, insufficiently patriotic eight-percent haredi minority, Yediot Aharonot’s Sunday front page inflamed matters with its “Cards of Hate” headline, publicizing an ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist card game. And, proving that our media masters give people what they want, the third “most viewed” Jerusalem Post item this Sunday, sandwiched between sobering Syria updates, was “Israeli restaurateur goes viral with online meltdown.”

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


These sideshows reveal a political culture corrupted by media demagoguery and celebrity worship.

Naturally, when word leaks out about prime ministerial predilections for designer ice cream, flying beds and fancy threads, cynics delight and moralists pontificate. But such indignation is politically immature.

The age of David Ben-Gurion’s hut and Menachem Begin’s simple salon is over. In our celebrity era, most Israelis expect their prime minister to look ready for prime time.

And with terrorism looming, an expensive, imperial security bubble encases the prime minister and his family, among others. As a democrat, I mourn the resulting distance between the leaders and the led. But the real world offers little alternative.

In the US, already in the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter wore sweaters, carried his own luggage and banned “Hail to the Chief” as too imperial, he appeared weak.



We are spared reports about President Barack Obama’s ice cream budget and flying preferences because the chief White House usher usually decides, insulating his boss from controversy.

Israel’s prime minister has enough worries without these artificial brouhahas. Israel’s government should establish standard travel protocols – which deliver leaders at their destinations refreshed and ready to lead – while a chief usher should run the prime ministers’ residences, making the necessary food, budget and personnel decisions.

Even so, in a world obsessed with trivial pursuits, few presidents and prime ministers can avoid all idiotic controversies.

“Unfortunately, when you run for the presidency your wife’s hair or your hair or something else always becomes of major significance,” John Kennedy sighed in 1960 when reporters gossiped about both Kennedys’ hairdos while speculating about how much Jack’s father, Joe, paid for Jackie Kennedy’s Parisian shopping sprees.

Similarly, I could easily join the rants denouncing the haredi “hate cards” featuring leading rabbis saying “the Land of Israel will vomit out the Zionists” and illustrating the Menorah, the state’s symbol, aflame. But this despicable game’s distributor is a Neturei Karta fanatic whose grandfather served in the Palestinian Authority. That revelation – buried on page 10 – makes this the latest chapter in an old tale about a marginal, self-hating community most ultra-Orthodox detest, too. But it is easier to caricature the haredim as extremist traitors rather than woo them as conflicted fellow citizens into a fairer, more mutual, civic compact.

The civilized West’s current civility shortage becomes clearer if you waste 45 minutes of your life watching celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s tumultuous visit to Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, compelled by that human instinct to watch people destroy themselves, publicly.

Amy and Samy Bouzaglo run a restaurant with hour-long waits for mushy pizzas and greasy hamburgers that Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” program tried helping.

But the Bouzaglos proved so abusive, resistant to criticism, and foolish, that Ramsay walked out, furious. Their expletive- filled rants, Samy’s bullying Israeli ways, and Amy’s angry ditz routine have amused Americans nationwide – with Israelis lured in because of the added fascination – and shame – brought on by Samy’s familiar accent and affect.

These three sideshows of the week reflect a culture that resists seriousness and corrodes community. “Gotcha” journalism, haredi hooliganism and TV voyeurism offer a pathological mix of Israel’s own homegrown insanity exacerbated by broader western pathologies. If Gresham’s Law in economics teaches that bad currency chases out the good, under today’s Gotcha Grip, idiocy chases out substance, the bad trumps the good, the sour eclipses the sweet.

As a result, we grumble about prime ministerial household expenses when we should be marveling at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s skill at managing the Syrian mess – while keeping characteristically cantankerous Israelis surprisingly supportive regarding his foreign policy moves thus far.

Similarly, we are so busy repudiating the zealotry of a marginal fringe of the 8% ultra- Orthodox minority that we overlook recent breakthroughs. Highlights include the many self-described “secular” Israelis who joined Shavuot study sessions and the opening in Jerusalem of the “First Station.” This renovated railroad terminal includes kosher and non-kosher establishments and has been welcoming crowds of religious and non-religious, Jews and Arabs, illustrating a vital, mellow, hip, diverse, tolerant Jerusalem that never makes headlines.

Finally, we will make the boorish Bouzaglos into minor celebrities while overlooking noble heroes like my friend Danny Hakim, whose Budo for Peace Association mounted an extraordinary program this Sunday night. We saw how martial arts can mix Arabs and Jews and Druze and Beduins and Japanese with American and Canadian and Ethiopian and Australian and Israeli accents to create what Hakim called “a common platform” to fight fear and promote a universal language among young and old.

In her online meltdown, Amy the cranky cook ranted about the “haters,” claiming they rejected her slop out of mean spirit, not good taste. By contrast, Zionism has long celebrated the “builders,” leaders who nurture and protect a nation, developers who create welcoming public spaces, activists who foster community, and educators who elevate us all. The builders deserve reporters’ headlines and our attention – so we can replace the cynical, corrosive, Gotcha Regime with the Zionist dream of idealism and engagement, facilitating individual and collective self-fulfillment.

The author is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His latest book is Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism.


Watch the new Moynihan’s Moment video! www.giltroy.com


Related Content

June 22, 2018
Editor's Notes | Moving the goalpost: The much-anticipated U.S. peace plan

By YAAKOV KATZ