TelaVivian, Vol 9: Fairy Tales Clash with Reality
Right and left wing Israelis worry about the future. Will it stay true to its liberal democratic ideals or will it become a bastion of extremists? Innocent or corrupted?
I. Cinderella meets Israeli Children
“What is this?”
Little M, as I call her, turned to me, cheeks impossibly flushed, her two year-old head exploding with excitement. Eyes popping.
“It’s a play,” I explained. “Sometimes it’s called theatre.”
That was all she could absorb in the moment. It had been a heady 90 minutes that unlocked a universe she hadn’t known existed two hours earlier. And rocked her world.
Little M is a beacon of light and my special friend; a child of exceptionally sunny disposition who also happens to be beautiful and fun. We went together to see a Chanukah rendering, in Hebrew, of the fairy tale classic, Cinderella. Music and cultural interpretation were very Israeli, brilliant and original.
We entered a pre-show reception area of pink chaos: pink balloon arcs, pink fuzzy light-up ears, pink wands, pink sparkly dresses, pink shoes. On stage, Cinderella did not disappoint - glittering pinkly - so stereotypically pretty and slender with long flaxen hair.
But, just as in real life, there’s the ying to the yang. The good and the evil; and the inherent fairy tale tension as to which will prevail.
Moments after humiliating Cinderella for daring to think she could attend the ball in the Prince’s castle, the wicked (drag queen) step-mother turned to speak directly to the audience. “What a nervy girl! What chutzpah!”
A swell of angry little girl voices filled the theatre, with one rising above the rest: “You’re nervy!”
That little girl in the theatre emboldened the others who echoed her chastisement of the wicked step-mother.
If only bad actors were so easily managed in real life.
II. THE FAIRY TALE BUBBLE HAS BURST; ISRAEL’S EXTREMISTS PREVAIL
As I have written consistently in these “pages”, the new Israeli political reality is much less about right or left or religious or secular. It is about a deep concern regarding the normalization of extremism, corruption and government conduct that does not align with fundamental democratic principles.
In recent weeks in Israel we have seen a rash of unprecedented responses to the newly negotiated government.
President Isaac Herzog, a political moderate now serving in a neutral position, invited Otzma Yehudit leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, for a private “sit-down”, during which he urged him to honor his duty to all Israelis. In other words: “Cool it with the provocative statements, Minister of National Security. You may be encouraging hateful discord that will be difficult to control.” Such a meeting, initiated by a president with a coalition member, is extraordinary.
Then there are the more than 1,000 former Israeli Air Force officers who wrote recently to Esther Hayut, Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, stating that the Court, in concert with the Attorney General, are the final and most critical bulwarks that can safeguard Israel’s democratic institutions and integrity.
In yet another extraordinary moment, outgoing IDF chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi met recently with then PM-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, warning that the splicing of IDF operational and decision-making authority was unjustified and would weaken the backbone of Israeli society and security. Is Kochavi just another nervous lefty intent on preserving the status quo? Or does he bring to the fore issues meriting urgent national attention?
So many individuals and groups – from the business sector, tech and innovation, civil society NGOs, physicians, have voiced similar worries. More than a few former Likudniks – among them one-time IDF chief of staff and, subsequently, Minister of Defence, Moshe (“Bogey”) Ya’alon – have been outspoken publicly in strong opposition to the extremist governing coalition. Are they all a bunch of raving left-wing lunatics? Simpletons? Anti-religious? Or is something much more serious circuiting through Israeli society?
In the coming days – State of Tel Aviv writer Attila Somfalvi – will delve further into Israelis’ concerns that the country is devolving into a warring mess of factions and tribes. And that this has much less to do with ideology or party loyalty and everything to do with the corrosive power of corruption.
III. WHEN FAIRY TALES LOSE THEIR MAGIC
The popular reaction within Israel to the incoming coalition has been extreme, as has the mounting concern in the Diaspora.
My anecdotal encounters over the last two weeks:
I had dinner with some octogenarian friends in the serene seaside community of Caesarea, where PM Netanyahu, too, keeps a private villa. Our hostess was the matriarch of a classic, hard-core, salt of the earth Israeli family. She arrived in the 30s with her family from Poland, a little girl who got out in the nick of time. Her husband was a teenage founder of the pre-state navy, and hazarded long journeys in not-so-seaworthy ships and boats loaded with Holocaust refugees. Their children, grandchildren and the next generation reside in Israel and the U.S. And this grand dame, who bore the departure of one of her children decades ago as a stinging rebuke, understands now why people would choose to leave. She despairs as to what will become of this great country built in such a short time. The other couple dining with us said they’d leave if they were younger.
And then there are people like my acquaintance who works as a massage therapist. His wife is a financial adviser with an MBA. A young couple, married with two children. They have just returned from a week-long reconnaissance trip to Amsterdam and will be moving there come summer. The children are studying Dutch.
My friend is certain that in the not-too-distant future this over-stressed little country will tear itself apart in civil war, like Lebanon and Syria. A committed patriot, he hopes he is wrong, but fears the worst.
Recently, he told his 95-year old grandmother - born in Mandatory Palestine, who fought in the War of Independence and is a fierce patriot – of his plans to emigrate. He dreaded that moment.
Two years ago, when they discussed the possibility of him leaving, she was furious.
But, when he broke the news a few weeks ago, she surprised him. “I understand, now,” she said. With sadness, they spoke of how terribly the national vision had veered off course, perhaps irredeemably.
Every society has its breaking point.
Even President Herzog, in recent days, implored Israelis to focus more on addressing the nation’s ills and less on leaving the country.
IV. THE FUTURE
The innocence of all those sparkling, pink princesses contrasts painfully with the gloom and cynicism that seem to have saturated the national mood.
I, and many others, I know, are dedicated to doing everything possible to ensure that those little girls mature into a society that is tolerant, democratic and constitutionally committed to equality of all citizens.
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