Opinion |

Don’t Collaborate in the Politics of Distraction

Zehava Galon
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Police restrain a protester at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 2, 2020.
Police restrain a protester at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 2, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Zehava Galon

At the height of the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, when the “For Rent” signs are decorating what were once stores in bustling business districts, when the names of those who died from the pandemic are no longer being mentioned on the front pages of the newspapers, Israel has found time for a debate over the art of Jacob Mishori.

As a result of an angry post from Yoav Elias, the rapper better known as “The Shadow,” (Hatzel), a decision was made in the Medica Medical Center to remove a painting by Mishori, one of the most important painters in Israel, which was written on it upside down: “Death to Jews.” “Who needs enemies from the outside when we are our own biggest enemy?” asked Elias. Thousands agreed.

Shimon Riklin agreed too. He even claimed that an Indian journalist called him and discussed the matter with him in “broken Sanskrit.” One can only wonder why the anonymous Indian chose to speak to Riklin in Sanskrit and not, let’s say, English or Hindi – it is possible to simply hope that Riklin’s Sanskrit is better than that of his colleague.

They immediately began explaining that Mishori’s work is about Kristallnacht; the graffiti “Death to the Jews” is what his mother, a Holocaust survivor, saw in northern Germany; and the subject of the Holocaust is not something foreign to Mishori. They would have been better off if they had been speaking Sanskrit. We were so deep into the debate that we didn’t stop for even a second to breathe, think and say: You are crazy, and we are not having this insane discussion with you.

What do Riklin and Elias want to say? That a medical center in the Jewish state displayed a painting by a Jew for antisemitic reasons? There is no way to argue with such a claim, which has long exceeded the borders of reality and logic. To argue with it only gives it substance. But this is exactly what we did while a corrupt prime minister tries to drag a country with an enormous deficit into a fourth election, at a time when people have nothing to eat in their homes, if they even have a home left.

This is a pattern that repeats itself, and we are all participating in it. People such as Riklin, Yinon Magal and Yair Netanyahu – the first to defend those who commit sexual assault – suddenly wrap themselves in a cloak of pious feminism and demand the condemnation of a balloon in the shape of a penis. The prime minister decides that an artwork is a call to “hang him,” while flesh and blood protesters are being stabbed in the streets, right-wingers are spraying pepper spray and tear gas at children, and the sign “Leftists are traitors” is hanging on his house on Balfour Street.

We are diving time after time into moralizing politics instead of dealing with morality. We are talking about displays of art instead of real blood being spilled on the streets, always the blood of the same camp, which is being spilled by the opposing camp. We allow people who have left their conscience behind – along with their backbone – drag us into discussions of “why didn’t you condemn it,” instead of talking about the regime that required its citizens to give up their livelihood and did not bother to offer them help. We are busy with pergolas instead of a prime minister with three indictments against him.

We can call this trolling, but it is just classic distraction, turning the attention from one topic to another. That is what is they are doing, because that is what they know how to do and because it works.

We must not take part in this game, even if the prime minister takes a side in it. It is a dangerous, evil game. There is no reason to pull out the stones an idiot throws into the well, and there is no reason to debate with him over Mishori’s art. Instead of explaining and becoming annoyed, we should organize. The right is already doing it.