Black Box / A Contagious Disease

I have no doubt that this tendency 'to embrace' − a verb that has become meaningless − will be the only real victor in the present Lebanon war, which will be remembered for the victory of sticky kitsch over the last vestiges of restraint.

Everyone is embracing. The H&O fashion chain, which sponsors the weather forecast on television Channel 1, "embraces the residents of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces." In their commercials on every television channel, the cellular phone companies repeatedly embrace the people of Israel. I zapped to the Children's Channel and there too, underlying the innocent message "We send our love to the soldiers," there is probably some shady business deal from which someone is profiting. On Channel 10, I just saw a commercial sponsored by the Natal Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War with a message to the effect, "You are not alone in facing the terror"; alongside its warm embrace there is an address for contributions. Supersol embraces by means of a care package, available at cost, with which one can embrace the residents of the north.

And some time ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his war address to the Knesset, embraced the injured, the kidnapped and the families of the fallen. Even the commander of the Golani Brigade, Colonel Tamir Yadai, a tough guy, was heard saying on the Mabat nightly news program on Tuesday (Channel 1, 9 P.M.) that when the battles are over, he will go to embrace the families of the fallen of the elite Egoz commando unit. How did it happen that an embrace has become a contagious disease from which there is no escape?

I have no doubt that this tendency "to embrace" - a verb that has already become meaningless from overuse - will be the only real victor in the present Lebanon war, which will be remembered for the victory of sticky kitsch over the last vestiges of restraint and low-key gestures, which in the past were identified with genuine Israeliness. I cannot picture Shimon Peres, for example, giving someone a big hug while patting him on the shoulder, as required by popular ethics. I recall prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in this regard, as someone who was not fond of physical gestures.

Responsibility for introducing the culture of over-embracing into politics belongs to the Likud, that same party that long ago transgressed the principal of elegance espoused by founding father Vladimir Jabotinsky and dipped it into a piquant Mediterranean sauce. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the culture of the vulgar embrace, both the practical and the verbal-metaphorical one, is perhaps the main - if not the only - contribution of the Likud to Israeli culture. Because since the Likud introduced this norm, anything less than a big hug is considered a sign of Ashkenazi coldness, and that is why it is particularly Ashkenazim like Olmert who are very strict in their observance of the laws of embraces.

Nor would I err by much if I were to claim that the generous culture of embraces of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, which at first caused him to seem out of place in the Labor Party, was the glue that in the final analysis made it possible to form a coalition with Kadima. A coalition of two vulgar serial huggers. Why vulgar? Because after all is said and done, there is nothing more off-putting than the next guy enveloping me in his sweaty arms in the middle of the summer, spreading the smell of his no-longer-fresh deodorant all over my face, and patting my back as though he wanted me to vomit up something I swallowed by mistake.

And, as we have said, the land is full of hugs, when it is clear to both parties - the huggers and the hugged - that there is nothing behind them. If the residents of the north really believed that the government and the nation are embracing them, as claimed by the commercials and the prime minister who speaks in commercial slogans - would they all be fleeing from their communities en masse? And of what value is the metaphoric embrace offered by the heads of state to the members of the newly bereaved families, if the heads of state themselves are also the ones responsible for the reckless military campaign under which these sons were sent to die in a country that is not theirs, when it may have been possible to solve the conflict through negotiations? The politician's embrace of his subjects is therefore an attempt at a too-swift extortion of forgiveness.

A particularly idiotic display of public embraces that I witnessed last Saturday took place during the "A Star is Born" song competition on Channel 2. There, each contestant who went on to the more advanced stage of the contest, as determined by a vote, parted from the competitors left behind with a big hug. This ritual of hugs continued for ages, and seemed particularly absurd because, after all, at the end of the abovementioned hugs the contestants simply moved to the other side of the stage, and the viewer was left wondering about the need for such moving farewell gestures before a trek of one or two meters at most.

The explanation for this behavior is that "A Star is Born" is an educational program. So, one of the things they teach the younger generation that may one day lead the country and hold key positions is to rally around the flag of the ideology of the embrace, which is in effect the last and final stage of the development of the original Zionist ideology: Spread out your arms and then tighten them around me, mixing the summer fluids of your body with the summer fluids of mine. That in itself is supposed to make it clear to both of us that we both stink, in the words of Heinrich Heine, the Jewish poet who converted to Christianity. This stink is the proof that we share a common denominator as well as a common goal: to make sure that the stink does not get out, a classical Zionist goal of utmost importance.