Opinion |

Pride in Gal Gadot Is No Match for the Shame of Today’s Israel

Even a legion of Wonder Women can’t stop Israel from dismantling its once-liberal democracy

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
Gal Gadot attends the Warner Bros. "Justice League" panel on Saturday, July 22, 2017, in San Diego, California.
Gal Gadot attends the Warner Bros. "Justice League" panel on Saturday, July 22, 2017, in San Diego, California.Credit: Richard Shotwell/AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Rolling Stone will mark its 50th anniversary in two months, but the celebration is bound to be low key. The famous magazine, which famously fell on its face in a bogus story about rape in Virginia, is being put up for sale by its legendary founder, Jann Wenner. For baby-boomers like me, it’s like a door closing: Rolling Stone sculpted and reflected the views of many young Americans born in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Long after gifted writers like Hunter Thompson no longer graced its pages, the cover of Rolling Stone continued to turn ordinary stars into cultural icons. John Lennon was on the cover of the first edition, published in November 1967. Gal Gadot is on the most recent edition, published in September 2017.

I ran into Gadot’s semi-tough pose on the cover of Rolling Stone on a magazine rack at a CVS drug store in Washington DC. The headline was “The Triumph of a Badass Wonder Woman.” My first reaction was to smile, the second was to buy a copy to show my girls back home and the third, after I had read the fawning two-page spread in the center of the magazine, was an undeniable feeling of pride. The fact that an Israeli girl who grew up in off-the-beaten-path towns such as Petach Tikva and Rosh Ha’ayin had managed to vanquish Hollywood and to become - with the help of her fetching sabra candor - a symbol of current feminism, gratified me, even though I had no role in her success.

Many Jews, in Israel and abroad, are upset by Gadot’s fame. Their opposition to the occupation, at best, and to Israel, at worst, compels them to view Israelis who shine abroad as diversion and propaganda. I don’t belong to that genre: From Bar Rafaeli to Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, from Amos Oz, David Grossman and the creators of Homeland to Waze, Mobileye and GetTaxi, Israelis of achievement - who also manage to represent at least a part of what Israel was supposed to represent - delight me. And not only abroad: There are many Israelis who deserve my pride and admiration, never mind the melody of HaTikvah which still manages to extract a tear, even though its lyrics have turned debatable over the years.

The problem is that the moments of pride are increasingly few and far between. A disgruntled prime minister who excels at spreading poison, along with corrupt government, embarrassing parliamentarians, shallow discourse, overbearing religion, growing nationalism, flourishing racism, diminishing tolerance, a democracy fighting for its life and the collective denial of 50 years of occupation and disenfranchisement of Palestinians - all of these have made pride a rarity and shame seem completely routine. Many Israelis and perhaps even most Israelis would angrily reject this depiction, but for me and many Israelis of my generation, that’s the greatest shame of all.

Nostalgia for the Israel that once existed has become toxic, often described as nothing more than condescending snobbism, but I would still venture that at least the dreams were rosier then. But even after one abandons the naive vision of an exemplary Jewish state that is a light unto the nations, the fact that Israel is resolutely dismantling the foundations of the proud and decent liberal democracy that it once strived to be is crushing. The reasonable assumption is that even a legion of Wonder Women can’t save us from ourselves any more, but at least on the eve of Rosh Hashanah we can pray that over the next year, pride will beat out shame.



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