Israel's Patriots No Longer Interested in a Liberal Society

In Im Tirtzu's eyes, patriotism means being a fervent Zionist, using security reasons to justify everything Israel does, and seeing everyone as an enemy.

Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh
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Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh

The Im Tirtzu movement and others on the extreme right don't want to allow performances of Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba" at Tel Aviv's Tzavta Theater because Mohammed Bakri is taking part. They believe that Bakri, a gifted actor, mustn't work anywhere in Israel because his 2003 film "Jenin, Jenin" insulted the Israel Defense Forces and bereaved families. To them, Bakri is an Israel-basher, so no forum should allow him, or any theater group he's associated with, to perform.

Ronen Shoval, one of the Im Tirtzu leaders who organized a protest outside Tzavta, was invited to give his point of view on the TV program "Let's Talk About It," hosted by Gal Uchovsky and Eliraz Sade. His explanation was accompanied by a manipulative use of quotes from the Supreme Court's 2003 ruling, which indeed stated, as Shoval claimed, that the film hurt the feelings of soldiers and bereaved families and was full of inaccuracies.

But it also stated - as Shoval forgot to mention, either out of ignorance or a deliberate attempt to mislead - that it was more dangerous to Israel's security to try to harm freedom of speech than to show the film. That was also the reason the court allowed the film to be screened.

Whether out of anger or ignorance, Uchovsky forgot to point out Shoval's mistake, and thus - just like in the reality show where the hosts once played and which their program was promoting - he preferred to curse a bit, turn his back on Shoval and stick out his tongue. From a television point of view, this event almost matched that famous confrontation on "Big Brother" between Sa'ar, who was crazy about security, and Sade - an event that ended with a crushing victory by Sade, who later took the big prize.

Behind Uchovsky's conduct was the anger of many people at the view that only those who Im Tirtzu considers patriots have the right to express themselves. Under this view, patriotism means being a fervent Zionist (even if you're an Arab, like Bakri ), using security reasons to justify everything Israel does, preventing any criticism of soldiers' behavior, and seeing everyone as an enemy.

Uchovsky was forced to apologize for his behavior but not for his views. Still, this apology opened up new doors for Im Tirtzu, with Shoval using Uchovsky to prove the existence of a sect "that's even more dangerous than the [extremist ultra-Orthodox] Sicarii" and than Bakri, ("who's merely a sophisticated enemy," as Shoval wrote in Haaretz Hebrew Edition this month ). This is a fundamentalist pseudo-liberal sect whose members don't hesitate to behave, as Uchovsky did toward Shoval, with "an outrageous lack of tolerance."

That is, in Shoval's eyes, what turns Uchovsky and the imaginary sect he leads (unbeknownst to him ) from true liberals into pseudo-liberals is that he refuses to be liberal about racism and tries to stop freedom of speech. This means the top court's justices (including Asher Grunis, who was partner to the opinions of Ayala Procaccia and Dalia Dorner in the "Jenin, Jenin" case ) can also be considered part of this sect.

But Shoval isn't the problem. He merely represents a symptom in parts of society, the Knesset and the government. It's not clear whether such people don't understand the meaning of democracy, liberalism and freedom of expression, or whether they're simply no longer interested in a society that has these values. The big fear is that the second option is right.



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