The Zionism Quiz in Ariel: As Far From Israeliness as Can Be

The questions didn’t feature the Holyland corruption scandal, Bamba peanut-butter snack or singing star Ninet Tayeb. Just the Kishinev pogrom and Arthur Ruppin.

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The Zionism Quiz in Ariel. March 8, 2014.
The Zionism Quiz in Ariel. March 8, 2014.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The Zionism Quiz for families in the Jerusalem and Samaria districts that took place on Tuesday in Ariel’s Cultural Center is part of the attempt to gain legitimacy as part of the normative Israeli experience. But Ariel is not a normal city. On the way in, the bus driver stopped the bus, a female security guard got on, walked among the seats, asked a man who looked Arab or Mizrahi to say where he had come from, and walked on.

The contestants’ families made up most of the sparse audience, alongside soldiers who were driven in from the nearby base. “We didn’t know where we were going,” one said. “We were told: You have 10 minutes. Go.”

When I told them that the event was a Zionism quiz, they thanked me. “You’re the first one to tell us,” they said, and added the Zionist question: “Say, when will the quiz be shown on TV?”

The emcee, Dan Kanner, spoke ironically of “an audience, great and powerful in number, that fills the hall from one end to the other,” and mistakenly referred to Ariel’s mayor, Eli Shaviro, as “mayor of Ashkelon.” I was afraid they would get into an argument, but later on they laughed about it.

“I allow myself to be pompous, and on the basis of Herzl’s statement ‘In Basel I founded the Jewish state,’ I say: In the Jewish state, we founded the Zionism Quiz,” Kanner said, announcing the thoroughly Zionist prize that would be awarded at the close of Independence Day: a trip to Europe “in the footsteps of Herzl.”

Yaakov Hagoel, head of the Department for Activities in Israel and Countering Antisemitism at the World Zionist Organization, came onstage wearing a glittering necktie and said: “It’s so good to be here. Mr. Mayor, you have an amazing city. It’s as good to be here as it is to be in Tel Aviv. This is the Land of Israel, and we are part of it.”

Even though it was ostensibly the districts of Jerusalem and Samaria, all the contestants (who came onto the stage holding small Israeli flags made of plastic) came from across the Green Line, and there was not a single family from Jerusalem among them.

The questions were easy (“Where did Ben-Gurion retire to? What is the name of the water pipe in the Negev?”). Most of them did not deal with Israel after the Six-Day War − although the massacre at the Munich Olympic Games may have been mentioned − which goes to show that it is hard to define Zionism beyond nostalgia without getting into trouble with somebody.

Every time Zionism is mentioned, there is always something against real life in Israel. After all, the quiz mentioned nothing about our lifes, for better or worse: people suffering from hunger, the Holyland corruption scandal, the treatment of Mizrahim or Arabs, the Bamba peanut-butter snack, singing star Ninet Tayeb, the sex scandals and even the settlements. Just the Kishinev pogrom and Arthur Ruppin.

For the first half hour, everybody knew all the answers and the audience muttered “easy questions.”

“I have to go home in an hour. Don’t add another round,” Kanner joked.

I really liked one member of the Rokeah family, who waved his flag every time someone answered a question correctly.

To weed out families competing in the quiz, the contestants were asked to name the chiefs of staff. Every family did so. What weeded out contestants was a request to name the presidents of the Supreme Court, which is harder than naming the chiefs of staff. Two families were sidelined.

One of them, the Tzionis, was angry about it, and one of their daughters walked off the stage in fury and demanded that the quiz be invalidated, but it continued as members of the Tzioni family shouted, “It’s not fair.”

Another unexpected crisis occurred around the “mayor’s question” regarding for whom the city of Ariel had been named. Those in charge of the quiz insisted that Ariel had been named for Ariel Sharon, while the mayor himself said that the city had been named for Jerusalem. Kanner managed the crises very well.

“It was quite festive,” said Miriam Schwartz of Kedumim. The Rokeahs, who won the competition, are her neighbors. “The fact that all the families answered correctly shows that Zionism is alive and well,” she said.

One of the contestants from the Tzioni family was less enthusiastic. “It was a disgrace,” she said. “The questions they asked were childish and ridiculous.”

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