My Word: Culture Clash

Whether or not you consider Ariel part of Israel, the recent uproar over the protest letters leaves no doubt that it is definitely part of the Middle East.

shooting funeral 311 (photo credit: AP)
shooting funeral 311
(photo credit: AP)
‘All the world’s a stage,” goes one of Shakespeare’s most quoted sayings. Well, perhaps not all the world. Apparently, there’s a corner of Ariel in Samaria which is so otherwordly, or out of this world, that it is being rejected by a group of Israeli artists.
Whether or not you consider Ariel part of Israel – and the vast majority of Israelis do think of it as part of a consensus – the recent uproar over the protest letter leaves no doubt that it is definitely part of the Middle East.
The act, while creating much debate, obviously did not go down too well.
The headline “Theater of the absurd” appeared more than once.
And Shakespeare also provided much inspiration with a Yediot Aharonot cartoon, for instance, asking “In Ariel or not in Ariel? That is the question.” An obvious play on words.
The list of 36 signatories – and those who joined them, including writers Yehoshua Sobol, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Amos Oz – is not particularly surprising. It’s a free country and these people have been freely expressing their opinions for years.
Playwright Anat Gov, no stranger to controversy, claimed the uproar was “much ado about nothing.” In various interviews and a Yediot op-ed, Gov said, somewhat disingenuously, that artists do not like to be the center of stormy attention. She sounded more convincing when she pointed out that nobody – and particularly theater people – likes to be hated.
The point is, however, that while the spotlights made it uncomfortable for a few of those who signed, many thrive on the love they receive, albeit not necessarily from local audiences.
I call it the Oslo Syndrome – a near neighbor of the well-known Stockholm Syndrome, in which hostages come to identify with their captors. In the Oslo Syndrome, Jews and Israelis of a certain type are willing to say almost anything that will portray them as being propeace – as if those who query the need to evict thousands from their homes in return for promises which have repeatedly literally blown up in our faces are anti-peace.
Or perhaps there is some sort of herd instinct at play, much like those kids who eagerly returned to classrooms last week while professing they don’t like school. It’s not cool to be a good student. And it’s not politically correct to be Zionist.
In the old days, when settlers were people who set up secular kibbutzim on the borders, entertainers traveled all over the country to perform, often under attack. Now, some entertain themselves by criticizing the settlers over the Green Line without ever bothering to meet them.
Having admitted that the letter unleashed a huge backlash, Gov nonetheless stated that Ariel is “not a consensus city.” Which is probably true – on the Palestinian side of wherever the border ends up. No Israeli government – not even the most concessionary – has suggested giving up major centers like Ariel, the Etzion bloc or Ma’aleh Adumim, although such protests are obviously intended to set the stage for just that.
Sometimes you ask yourself on what planet these guys are living. Not in what town. And I assume that none of the signatories vacations on the Golan Heights (although it deserves its reputation as one of the country’s more beautiful holiday spots).
Political scientist Prof. Yaron Ezrahi told Israel Radio he had joined the protest because “science and the arts are universal endeavors that flourish in an atmosphere of freedom and cannot thrive in a military regime.” It’s a good job he knows how to philosophize, otherwise how could he explain that he lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on a part of the campus built post-’67? The Ariel University Center in Samaria, where Arab students study alongside Jewish classmates, has of course also been targeted by foreign boycotters. It is amazing what can be done in the name of academic or artistic freedom.
Personally, I applaud those artists including Yehuda Poliker, Hanan Yovel, Yehoram Gaon, Sarit Hadad and Eyal Golan, who were willing to sign a counter-letter stating, among other things: “Woe betide us if we do not promote the arts and Israeli culture wherever it is wanted.”
Israel, even including cities like Ariel, is a tiny country.
The arts have not, despite Ezrahi’s poetic comparisons, been repressed under the barrels of guns. Box-office hits include the Cameri Theater’s iconic satire by Hanoch Levin, Queen of the Bathtub, targeting Golda Meir’s policies in the territories. And it would be hard to think of Israel’s cinema successes without mentioning all the recent antiwar movies (is there, indeed, an Israeli pro-war movie?).
While used to fighting boycott attempts abroad, we now have a burst of homegrown versions – cheap imitations.
On the one (left) hand, we have the group of artists and intellectuals intent on telling the rest of us what we should think, and determining when – and more importantly where – the show must go on. On the other hand, the right, groups like Im Tirtzu want a role in deciding who is teaching the next generation in the country’s universities.
The boycotts and counter-boycotts have grown so ridiculous that I recently read an article suggesting that Israelis avoid companies like Ikea and H&O because of the anti-Israel boycotts in Sweden. How boycotting those very companies that are doing business in Israel is meant to help is beyond me.
Ultimately, I might just boycott boycotts.
PUBLICATION OF the protest letter ahead of the launch of the talks in Washington was obviously intended as a message. However much I might dislike it, it was certainly a more cultured move than the terror attacks that cut down the lives of four people near Hebron on August 31, and wounded two the following night, although these too were definitely a message. Both in their own very different ways protest normalization and facts on the ground.
No doubt the peace-loving protesters would reject any suggestion that they have something in common with the terrorists who try to shoot down peace – dragging the bodies of Yitzhak Ames, 47, his wife Tali Ames, 45, Kochava Ben- Haim, 37, and Avishai Schindler, 24, from the car in which they were slain to make sure they were dead. It’s hard to think of the six Ames children losing both parents in one bloody attack.
It’s easier, however, if you can persuade yourself that these aren’t real Israelis, but settlers, barely real people at all.
And this is the inevitable result of the delegitimization process. Attacks that begin with “settlers” have a way of developing into attacks that reach the very heart of the country. Residents of Tel Aviv might have been lulled into a false sense of security recently, but speak to the parents in Ashkelon demanding schools and kindergartens be missile-proofed and you’ll probably find most identify more with Ariel residents than with those people living in the theater world, unwilling to acknowledge Judea and Samaria.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did condemn the deadly ambush – not having much choice, at the start of peace talks. But it is clear that Hamas wants some of the limelight, even if it is by bombing, in the non-box office sense.
It is difficult to imagine the talks in Washington between Israel and the Palestinians ending with a standing ovation, although it is worth a try.
Would that we could at least live in peace among ourselves in the new year, and relegate words like “left” and “right” to stage commands, not insults.
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.