Livnat
Illustration by Eran Wolkowsky
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Ariel: "I have made you mad."

- William Shakespeare, "The Tempest," Act III, Scene 3

It feels like ages since Culture Minister Limor Livnat was as glamorous and as sought-after as she was in the lobby of the Ariel cultural center on Monday evening, when the West Bank settlers' city inaugurated the new center. Where else in the world could she have received the attention accorded a diva, as reporters and cameramen from Israel and abroad encircled her, illuminating her face with spotlights and thrusting microphones toward her fashionably lipsticked mouth in order to record her every word? Hollywood? Cannes? Nope. Tel Aviv? Forgive me if I snicker. They would greet her there with rotten tomatoes, her and her plans to declare a competition for Zionist works of art.

It's for this that Ariel exists, and it's a good thing - nay, even essential - in light of the fact that it serves as a therapeutic community for those suffering from hallucinations. It is a place where the cursed and the shunned of the world - those who, anywhere else on the face of this great globe, would be greeted with boos and catcalls - can, for a moment, enjoy a loving embrace.

The culture minister is not the only one on the list of patients here. In Ariel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's star also shone brightly, when he spoke there at the graduation ceremony of the local college last year, and called for a cultural jihad against Norway and its late national author, Nobel Prize laureate Knut Hamsun. And get this: Because he said those things in Ariel, the insanity in his remarks seemed almost normal. Doesn't this indicate that the place possesses therapeutic qualities?

Indeed. Anyone who has a screw loose, anyone who has a mad, grandiose idea about saving the nation and the land and encourages its cultural renaissance, anyone who wakes up in the morning and thinks he is the Messiah, or Theodor Herzl, or Brigitte Bardot - should rush off to Ariel. This town will do wonders for him. Guaranteed.

Let us take even the term "hall of culture." After all, it was around the opening of the "Ariel Hall of Culture," as it is referred to in Hebrew, that all the fuss arose. In the heart of every normal human being, a "hall of culture" is associated with the concrete dinosaurs that to our regret have been hulking in the centers of our towns since the 1960s, swallowing up unnecessary budgets for maintenance.

The halls of culture, successors to the "people's houses" from previous generations, are the fruits of the vision of ambitious political party hacks whose names long ago sank beneath the horizon into oblivion - individuals who had pretenses of understanding culture and spreading it to the people. They wanted cloud-capp'd towers, gorgeous palaces that would commemorate their names forever, or the names of their even grayer fellow hacks. And now, all over the country, they are looking for ways to get rid of these unnecessary monsters. Except in Hallucinationsville: Ariel. Here the shelf-life of the nostalgic product has not expired. Proof: It has succeeding in stirring great excitement.

Thus, everyone who is nostalgic for the 1960s: Go to Ariel. There time has stood still. There Zionism is still innocent and virginal. There people seek real culture. Fact: Since the 1960s, where else outside of London and Ariel have people been seen crowding and shoving in order to find a seat to watch a theatrical performance? Thanks to Ariel, the remedy has been found to the danger of the sudden decrease in audience sizes at Israel's theaters.

All that is necessary is to recruit a handful of chronic idiots who will declare: "I do not perform in occupied Ariel!" Immediately, spontaneously, an entire legion of chronic idiots from the other side of the political map will declare: "Oh yes you will!" It gets really fun, as in the days of Prime Minister Golda Meir and Hanoch Levin's play "Queen of the Bathtub."

That is to say, take any lousy play and send it to Ariel. Within a short time, like the hideous frog in the fairy tale that becomes a prince, everyone will forget that it is nothing but a lousy play by a lousy playwright and they will jostle in line to see it. The principle is fixed: It isn't you people there in Tel Aviv with your refined tastes who are going to decide for us here in Ariel what is good and what is not. In our therapeutic town, everything that isn't good in your books, everything whose sell-by date has passed, everything that has gone out of fashion, everything second-hand and third-hand and fourth-hand, before you throw it in the trash - just send it to us. Old rags, ministers of culture, Edith Piaf, Gila Almagor.

And in this glamorous Hollywood of the Near East, a jury headed by the glamorous minister Livnat will bestow on the worst performance of all and on the shabbiest rag of all: the great Oscar of Zionism.