Culture War

Cameri Theater actor Rami Baruch is one of the first artistic figures in Israel to announce his refusal to perform in the West Bank since the Boycott Law was passed.

Even people who are not enthusiastic about boycotts cannot help but admire the courageous act of Cameri Theater actor Rami Baruch, who has announced his refusal to perform in Kiryat Arba. Baruch acted alone, possibly opening himself up to prosecution, couching his reasoning in distinctly moral terms.

Baruch did not speak in slogans. Simply and modestly, he revealed his dilemmas. He was not happy about boycotting Kiryat Arba, but was obeying his conscience. He mentioned Rabbi Kahana and his movement, Baruch Goldstein and the adoration displayed at his tomb, the Hebron Jewish community's cruelty to Palestinians.

The aggressive response from Kiryat Arba was not long in coming. The new auditorium, which had been built with funds that were intended for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, was immediately and warmly embraced by a number of members of the city council, Kahana's disciples. They did not make do with predictably vilifying Baruch as an extreme leftist, un-Zionist, un-Jewish and non-nationalist, who is getting his theater into trouble. Neither did they make do with the no-less predictable threat, directed at the Culture and Sports Ministry, not to dare continue funding the Cameri and its rebellious actors, and in forcing the hand of theater's management, which in any case is trembling with fear over the prospect of losing its state funding. They also unveiled their cultural plans, by which the auditorium at Kiryat Arba will not be under the aegis of "their" (leftist secular ) culture, which is not "our culture, the magificent culture of love of the Land of Israel." They disclosed that the auditorium will be under the direction of a spiritual committee, headed by none other than Rabbi Dov Lior. Moreover, actors, singers and others who wish to appear in the city's auditorium will be required to prove that they served in the army and sign a declaration of loyalty to the state.

Moliere himself could not have created such a grand farce. Declaration of loyalty? To the state? And who will give the stamp of approval? The same Dov Lior, who refused to be questioned by police, justified Baruch Goldstein and recommended the diatribe "Torat Hamelech" (a book describing under what circumstances it is permissible to kill gentiles ). Or perhaps another of the rabbis of the yeshivas, who preached refusing orders to evacuate settlements? Or perhaps the "price tag" people, at the end of the pleasurable and cultured day in which they burned two mosques, beat and injured four Palestinian teens, spattered invective on the door of the home of a Peace Now activist and destroyed Israel Defense Forces property?

Only the deaf, mute and children would not see that this is a culture war, on one side of which are the nine IDF cadets who boycotted the female singers at the IDF's officer training school, and on the other is Rami Baruch. On the one side are Kahana's disciples and their rabbis, and on the other, anyone who dares oppose them, and therefore, even if that person wears a skullcap, he is considered an "extreme leftist."

But this culture war is not being fought. It is being denied. Again. Like the panicked wave of appeasement after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when the group of people who defined themselves as moderate and peace-loving were dragged into dialogue, mediation, compromise, joint study sessions and other such bumptiousness. In the end, the rightist-messianic minority earned legitimacy, while the confused majority was stingingly defeated in 1996, became filled with guilt and regret over having "forgotten to be Jews," folded up and went silent.

Now, around discussion committees and round tables born of the hopeful social protest, a similar process is taking place. On the right, in the settlements and their ideological environs (this is already not a matter of geography. Nationalist ultra-Orthodox and other powerful centers are operating, intentionally, inside the Green Line, and particularly in Arab-Jewish mixed cities ) at first spilled their invective, disgust and contempt for the protesters. Now, when meeting for "dialogue," experts in mediation and facilitation in a "Torah" spirit rmember that they, too, are part of the protest.

The young leaders of the protest, imbued with good intentions, believe with all their heart in embracing everyone in the name of social solidarity, and not, far be it for them, to talk politics. But like their older siblings from the 1990s, they, too, might find themselves led by the nose by the other culture - the culture that denounces Rami Baruch's spirit of conscience and freedom, and appoints a spiritual committee instead.