The holiday newspapers officially crowned the new cultural heroes of Israel: the rich. The phenomenon of recent years of regarding wealth as a supreme value and perceiving those with high economic status not only as powerful but also as models to be imitated and venerated received prominent play in the holiday press, which generally reflect the spirit of the times.
Each period has its heroes. After the formative years, when the popular heroes were the leaders of the Yishuv [pre-state Jewish community], came the years of worshiping the army. Instead of David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Sadeh, Yaakov Hazan, Menachem Begin or Moshe Sneh, commanders in the Israel Defense Forces became the new heroes. On Independence Day, their pictures were hung from almost every balcony. Their pictures were distributed with the holiday newspapers, and every other child dreamed of becoming chief of staff.
Who then didn't know the name of the chief of Military Intelligence? Who didn't admire the head of the Air Force? This is how it was until the great rupture of the Yom Kippur War.
Instead of the generals, television stars became the heroes and continue to shine in our firmament to this very day. A recent survey by Globes gave Yair Lapid a good chance of winning a contest for prime minister, even though no one has a clue about his views. But gradually a new model of emulation has joined the TV stars - the rich. Until a few years ago, they kept a low profile and operated behind the scenes, a reminder of the days when people used to be embarrassed by opulence.
But now wealth talks, and how. The inevitable result is that Idan Ofer and Gil Shwed have become the ultimate models of success, and more than anything else the next generation wants to be rich.
This aspiration is diligently fostered by the popular media, which is supremely attentive to the public mood. A glance at the heroes of the press on the eve of Passover demonstrates this very well. Maariv published a special supplement entitled "Israel's 100 most respected managers," Yedioth Ahronoth published a feature article called "The heirs" and Globes came out with "The 20 most successful managers in Israel." And all this happened several weeks after the publication of TheMarker "Guide to Israel's Wealthiest."
This phenomenon is not merely a matter of relevant information about the dimensions and sources of wealth. Rather, it serves to encourage, in an uncritical way, the worship of mammon in a society in which the gaps between the rich and poor are among the highest in the Western world. Where does Dan Suesskind, "the No. 1 financier," like to go out at night? Globes asks. Why is this important? It is important because this is the way new idols are nurtured. Yedioth Ahronoth told about the crown princes: What job did Itzik Shrem arrange for his daughter? When did Shari Arison's son get a secretary? And other such insipid information. Every move in Shari Arison's life - singing in public or getting married - is not only documented in the gossip columns, but also in the solemn economic pages. Soon they'll be giving out posters with her portrait on Independence Day.
Israel, of course, did not invent this social trend. Everything is like in America. But here the transition to the worship of wealth was particularly rapid and abrupt. The plutocracy, which in recent years has also known how to translate its wealth into political clout, has come out of the closet with great fanfare. As in the case of the generals and TV personalities, no one has any idea about the worldview of most of them. There is no market in Israel for a clear worldview.
It surely sounds nagging and archaic to complain about the absence of intellectuals from the lists of most admired people, but it is instructive to discover that even in a newspaper that considers itself to be less populist, like Haaretz, Nochi Dankner's name was mentioned 310 times during the past year and Yitzhak Tshuva's name 277 times. On the other hand, the number of references to Amos Oz was less than a third of Dankner's total, and the references to Yoram Kaniuk did not amount to even 20 percent of Tshuva's. The essays of Professor Jacob Talmon in the holiday newspapers have been replaced by articles about the Boroviches. The fact that the predecessors of the rich in the role of popular heroes - IDF commanders - were revealed to be false gods and that an awful price was paid for blindly venerating them, does not make the new phenomenon any less serious. Some of these wealthy people have established splendid enterprises and are, of course, deserving of admiration for this. They certainly have an important role to play in building the economy and perhaps even in strengthening the state's foundation. But cultural heroes?
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