My word: Sorry, we won

What would the late father of Israeli satire Ephraim Kishon make of the situation in the world today?

Ephraim Kishon (photo credit: YAEL ROSEN)
Ephraim Kishon
(photo credit: YAEL ROSEN)
I have found myself thinking a lot about satirist Ephraim Kishon lately. It’s not because satire has obviously gained a great deal of attention since the Charlie Hebdo killings. And it’s not because Kishon’s work has been undergoing a revival in a series of events marking the 10th anniversary of his death. It’s the title of his 1967 book, So Sorry We Won!, which still succinctly sums up Israel’s post-Six Day War predicament.
The Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor (“They made a mistake, they left one satirist alive,” he wrote of the Nazis) became Israel’s premier observer of the human condition. His work was translated into more than 35 languages, with Germany ironically providing a major market for his stories. He died on January 29, 2005, in Switzerland. This week I wondered what he would have made of the situation in the world (and not least of the fact that in January 2015 it was the Swiss economy that hiccuped while Israel’s economy – war, terrorism and frequent elections notwithstanding – was still strong.) He had an acerbic wit and a keen eye for middle-class foibles – his short story on the gift-wrapped chocolate passed unopened from hostess to hostess might sound or feel familiar. Perhaps his most beloved work in Israel is his play (and subsequent film) Sallah Shabati, starring Chaim Topol, on the rough absorption of the wave of Sephardi immigrants in the 1960s.
The French arriving en masse today have a more comfortable arrival but doubtless can identify with the pain of culture clash.
Kishon’s best-known quotes include: “Israel is a country so tiny that there is no room to write its name on the world map” and “It is a country where nobody expects miracles, but everybody takes them for granted.”
It is, of course, even today a country at the center of the theater of the absurd. The International Criminal Court could put Israelis on trial for their response to the thousands of Hamas rockets launched this summer, but not Hamas for launching them. Yesterday the UN held a special session on the rise of anti-Semitism and next week it will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day before inevitably returning to bashing and undermining the Jewish state.
It seems laughable to many that on Friday two weeks ago, schools in Jerusalem and other places in Israel were closed because of snow; Israelis famously carry on through war but can’t cope with even light flurries of snowflakes. But there’s nothing funny about the reason for closed Jewish schools in Belgium last Friday or synagogues in Paris the previous week: the threat of terrorism.
It seems extraordinary that this week Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was pelted with eggs by Fatah-associated protesters accusing him of “terrorism” as he left a meeting with his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Riad Maliki, in Ramallah while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to cut short his visit to the PA because of the hostage crisis surrounding two of his nationals held by Islamic State.
Welcome to the new Middle East, where the Middle Ages are back in deadly fashion.
The knife attack on a Tel Aviv bus on Wednesday in which 13 people were wounded barely made the news abroad. It took place a couple of hours before I went on air on a regular spot on Radio New Zealand’s Nights show.
“Was it definitely a terror attack?” asked the amiable interviewer, Bryan Crump, and I suddenly realized how different our approach is in the Middle East compared to that in the world of fair play.
Israel, I pointed out, has a different take on terrorism.
“Lone wolf” attacks do not take place in a vacuum. They take place in an atmosphere which cultivates violence and terror. The individual assailant might be suffering from psychological or personal problems, but you ignore the background that fosters such attacks at your peril.
When Israelis saw Man Haron Monis demanding an Islamic State flag be brought to the Sydney coffee shop where he was holding hostages in December, they saw a terror attack. For us, it was literally a sign.
That Amedy Coulibaly chose to strike at a kosher supermarket in Paris just before Shabbat was no coincidence, in the same way that Charlie Hebdo was not arbitrarily selected as a target.
As I write these lines, by the way, the Palestinian Authority has not condemned the Tel Aviv stabbings while Hamas has praised them. So much for the PA prime minister’s march with world leaders in Paris. Mahmoud Abbas walked the walk, but couldn’t quite bring himself to talk the talk, at least not when it came to Jews in Tel Aviv.
Even the light relief this week had a heavy side to it: TV presenters and reporters around the world had a field day with the Miss Universe incident. A selfie photo shoot turned into what is known as a photo-bombing.
At a pre-contest pageant in Miami, Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, accused Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, of crashing into the frame while she was taking a photo with Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia.
Whatever happened to the contestants’ once uniformly expressed desire for world peace? I’ll tell you what: Miss Lebanon came under serious fire at home for consorting with “the enemy.”
The story offers great opportunities for creative headlines and punchlines, but it’s not funny. It is an example of the impact of the “anti-normalization” campaign that is wiping out hope for peace.
I have no doubt that Miss Lebanon felt seriously threatened by the venomous response she received after Miss Israel posted the picture on Instagram. So threatened that instead of being able to brush it off, or use it as a chance to express inner beauty and call for sanity, Greige had to accuse Matalon of stalking her, awaiting her chance to pounce. Matalon might, of course, have been doing just that – but her motives were surely not to endanger the Lebanese contestant, but to express a desire for peace and solidarity. Miss Egypt, Lara Debanne, tellingly was willing to pose with Miss Israel, but reportedly also avoided further contact with Matalon after the Lebanese controversy blew up. Apparently, you can’t leave politics out of the picture even at Miss Universe.
The incident served as a pleasant diversion, but eyes turned to the north not because of the attractions or otherwise of Miss Lebanon. Israel was on high alert following the January 18 air strike attributed to the IAF on a target on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, in which Jihad Mughniyeh, son of former Hezbollah chief Imad Mughniyeh, was killed along with several others, including six Iranians, one of them a general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Muhammad Allahdadi.
The incident raised several questions: One of the most intriguing being “Was Israel too successful?” Killing Jihad Mughniyeh before he had a chance to carry out a planned attack has the double benefit of thwarting the assault as well as sending a very powerful message to Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah.
With little available information, it is hard to say whether this is an unmitigated intelligence coup – managing to hit two birds of prey at the same time, Mughniyeh Jr. and Gen. Allahdadi – or whether there was an intelligence screw-up and Israel didn’t know that Allahdadi was there at the time.
The question of the significance of such a large and high-level Iranian presence on Syrian territory is also more than academic.
This week we were reminded once more that Iran is not a peace-loving, moderate Shi’ite answer to Islamic State’s radicalized Sunni forces. The death in Buenos Aires of Dr. Alberto Nisman hours before the Argentinean public prosecutor was due to present his accusations that President Cristina Fernandez and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman deliberately covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack in which 85 people were killed was highly convenient for the Argentinean leaders and the Iranians.
As for the threats of a fiery response, well, neither Iran nor Hezbollah has shied away from promoting terror so far: Nasrallah has not been stockpiling thousands of missiles as a hobby, an idiosyncratic alternative to stamp collecting.
In any case, I’m not wasting tears on either Mughniyeh or Allahdadi. But we should all be alert to what Nisman’s death (whether an unlikely suicide or more feasible assassination) represents.
Cry for Argentina, the world, and let’s hope Kishon is resting in peace, having the last laugh.
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