Images and insults in Israel's ruling party
Op-ed: Whoever is offended by actor Oded Kotler's 'beasts' comments assumes that he is right, that all members of the Likud Central Committee members chew grass or sausages, that the voters censor art like a mindless herd – and that they are followed by the politicians.
This image was at the center of Sunday's internal vote in the Likud on the Central Committee members' power, and it is around this image that people are insulted and people insult time and again.
The problems in the ruling party are real. Anyone who voted for the Likud at some point in his life is familiar with the fear of surprises. Once it was former Knesset Member Inbal Gavrieli, whose skills amounted to family ties and 27 years of life, and now it's the Hazan family which moves on the Burgas-Ariel route.
That's the reason why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting with all his might to preserve the current system. That's the reason why the Likud finds it difficult to accept criticism. Within a group of worthy people, political gimmicks succeed in infiltrating the party every time and dictating the image and sometimes the tone.
Actor Oded Kotler's "beasts" label landed on this platform. The artists' protest focuses on state budgets, and Kotler – like every mediocre activist who doesn’t really influence anything – is fighting for control. On the way, he curses a bit, creates provocations and claims to speak in the name of supreme values.
There is no reason to be offended by an actor who calls one-quarter of the Israelis beasts, just like there is no need to pay attention to anyone from the other side who calls another quarter of the people traitors and anti-Zionists. If there is something that should be protested, it's the other artists' attitude towards the weeping niece of murdered soldier Moshe Tamam. Those who kept quiet and those who acted like animals.
And in general, there are more serious curses than "beasts" and more important people to be offended by. For example, Shas' late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who in his good old days said that the seculars were "as stupid as beasts" or called Religious Zionism "the home of gentiles" – and no one took it to heart. So why are we getting so excited about a theater actor with no followers?
That is what I wrote, and in response I received detailed explanations why it's important to be insulted and to answer back. Well, I don’t buy it. We need sanity. Whoever is insulted by Kotler assumes that he is right, that the image is right, that all the Likud Central Committee members chew grass or sausages, that the voters censor art like a mindless herd – and that they are followed by the politicians.
In this case, the opposite is true: Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture Minister Miri Regev actually created a fundamental discussion here on the life of a democratic and liberal state. And as opposed to the populist claim following the discussion, it's clear to everyone – from the right and from the left – that there is complete artistic freedom in Israel. Every person can do what he wants, even when it contradicts the majority's ethos.
The argument is over governmental funding. It's about budgets, not values. Regev (who remarkably succeeds in turning every true claim into a spectacle of absurdity) and Bennett are arguing that the state doesn't have to fund every play, and they are right. Especially not a play inspired by a terrorist or a murderer.
And what about the party? Whoever is in power should not be offended – not by an actor and not by an opponent.
In this context, we should learn from Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely of all people, with her religious outlook and Likud politics. Hotovely wasn't insulted on behalf of the party by the Oren Hazan affair, and voiced her opinion firmly (and courageously – as opposed to Netanyahu and most of her friends) about the value issue. She isn't insulted either when she is cynically asked about the Divine argument for explaining the Foreign Ministry.
I watched her address an audience last week. Some grumbled in front of her impolitely, and she continued to speak without being insulted. This week, I had the chance of meeting the Japanese foreign minister a few hours after he met her. He and his people told me enthusiastically that they had been very impressed by Hotovely. It wasn't an act. I thought about the forum in which she addressed Israelis, about her image here.
I don’t agree with Hotovely. I find her diplomatic plan to bring two million Jews from the United States in order to change the demography in Judea and Samaria ridiculous, and her Divine argument is unconvincing when it comes to hasbara – but at least she shows us what she thinks without being insulted.
I assume that Hotovely didn't lose sleep the day after Kotler's comment. She knows what she's worth. Most Likud voters didn't lose sleep either. Being insulted is an alternative to dealing with problems.