Black Box / A Passage From India

The authenticity of the Bnei Menashe's descent from the Biblical tribe is comparable to mine from Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, or from Snow White's Seven Dwarfs.

The tired and confused group of new-immigrant families from India were shown on the Tuesday evening news arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, waving Israeli flags and singing "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem." The authenticity of their descent from the Biblical tribe of Menasseh is comparable to mine from Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, or from Snow White's Seven Dwarfs.

It transpires that this fantasy of a newly-discovered Jewish diaspora, lost for 2,700 years, is being realized by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization with a Jewish proselytizing whiff about it. Its representatives, with their strongly American-accented Hebrew, appeared all week on television, with the scary smiles of fanatics with whom no discussion of their religion is possible.

But apart from a few snide comments by Yaron London and Raviv Drucker on the Monday television program "London and Kirschenbaum" (Channel 10, 19.00), I did not hear many other reservations about this exercise in scraping the bottom of the barrel of the Zionist Idea. Quite the contrary. What people should have paid attention to on Tuesday's newscasts was the firmness with which the various TV correspondents told of what occurred 2,700 years ago (according to Channel 2) or 2,500 years ago (according to Channel 10), when Bnei Menashe ("the Children of Menasseh") were "cut off" from the nation of Israel.

How were they cut off - if indeed they were at all? The television story left the impression that they were cut off because they simply didn't pay their bills for 2,500 years, and now they have been reconnected to the Jewish cable network.

How can any intelligent person accept this fable without even blinking? When these Bnei Menashe broke into a Hassidic dance - in the film shot back in their home in India, and shown on the same Tuesday newscasts as "proof" of their Jewish identity - it was obvious that they had only recently learned the dance, and that it was not the biblical Menasseh, son of Joseph, who had taught it to them.

So what does in fact prove that they are real Jews? Perhaps the tear shed in front of the camera by one of the girls in the group, which she then wiped away with a tissue. It recalls the Biblical verse: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears." Not only is the talent for weeping typically Jewish, but it already prepares the girl for her first demonstration, which will undoubtedly take place in front of the Knesset in the not-too-distant future, with the Bnei Menashe waving posters along the lines of "You have forgotten us!" and "No work, no money," and bitterly crying out against the National Insurance Institute. At the same time - and sooner than we think - those American accents that brought in the Bnei Menashe this week will be busy locating the descendents of the tribe of Naftali or Issachar in Alaska.

Sderot, city of artistes

Sderot is a town that has already produced a good number of talented artists, as talk-show host Yair Lapid reminded us this week in a program (Channel 10, Monday, 21.45) that was devoted - according to the rules of national solidarity - to two successful citizens of Sderot. One was the manly mayor, Eli Moyal; the other the beautiful Miri Bohadana, who is currently with child. (Last week, you will recall, Lapid interviewed another well-known Sderot artist: Amir Peretz.)

It seems that Sderot is a place in which people are increasingly proud to live. And more: Those who left it in the past are coming back to what they regard as their heart's desire. For this, to our deep regret, we have to thank the Qassam rocket launchers from the Gaza Strip - and, even more, the billionnaire Arcadi Gaydamak, who extended his patronage to the residents of the town, who were falling apart under the inflictions of the Qassams.

It is interesting that ever since Sderot became the "in-place," and its citizens realized that they possessed an asset called "to be from Sderot," it seems that every child in the town has learned to speak to the television cameras openly and with perfect proficiency. Like the little girl, with a mouth still full of milk-teeth, who declared with a flair beyond her years that "it's not right that they didn't let us on the bus. We've been waiting since Wednesday. We also want to go to Eilat." And all this with a forlorn face, as a true artiste would put on. That was on Sunday's "Mabat" news program (Channel 1, 21.00). In the background was the not-so-cultured and alarming scene of shoving to board the buses provided by the latter-day well-known Benefactor, Gaydamak.

And in the same newscast, another girl (who did not stop chewing gum while speaking to the nation on the official television channel) talked about the fun she was having in Eilat, thanks to Gaydamak. This gum-chewer, bussed down to Eilat to get away from the Qassams, is an indication of the degree to which Sderot has become the undisputed arbiter of national taste and culture in this country. In my day, let me remind you, girls like that would have been thrown out of class with a note to their parents. Today they are TV starlets.

Mockery of the homosexual idea

Zvulun Orlev, head of the National Religious Party, in conversation with London and Kirschenbaum (Channel 10, Tuesday, 19.00), contended that recognition of same-sex marriage in Israel meant the demise of the idea of the Jewish state. To some extent, even without being religious, I could understand him; because I think that the recognition by the Israeli Supreme Court of the registration of same-sex marriages (which was made public that same day) is to a great extent a kind of mockery of the homosexual idea.

The mockery lies in the fact that it makes something out of the institution of marriage, while the world has known for a long time that marriage is no guarantee of happiness - or anything else, for that matter. A homosexual marriage ceremony can be just as kitschy, superfluous, sham and insincere as a straight one.

Background shots shown during the discussion with Orlev presented homosexuals as strange creatures: elderly male couples, some of them physically repulsive, kissing passionately at their wedding; or a male couple proudly wiggling their buttocks as they emerged from the registry office; or the marriage ceremony of two fat women, and so on. That was enough. The pictures were intended to be the rebellious counterweight to Orlev's solemn, responsible Jewish sermon, but they will be the images that will be left on viewers' retinas as the embodiment of bizarre homosexual life.

There is nothing more distorted and stereotypical than that. Gays are Jews like other Jews, people like other people, who look no different and dress no differently, who serve in the Israeli army and even die in wars and terrorist attacks like others. As long as they are represented on television as examples of some exotic breed, no Supreme Court ruling will help the recognition of their right to normal life like everyone else.