Dear Lord, this week even Smurfette fell victim before you, banned from billboards in Bnei Brak meant to promote the new movie in which she stars. Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty will have to make do without her. At least in the sacred territory between Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva.
- Smurfette latest victim of Israel's ultra-Orthodox modesty wars
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The Mirka’im-Hutzot Zahav PR company explains that the character was deleted so as not to offend the sensibilities of the city’s residents. “It’s not possible to show the image of a woman, or a teenage or young girl in Bnei Brak,” they say. Apparently, that goes for an animated blue female dwarf of Belgian origin too. Well, let’s not forget that she’s also cheerful and friendly, with a mane of blonde hair. One can’t help wondering what legendary cartoonist and Smurfs creator Peyo (Pierre Culliford) would have thought. Perhaps it’s just as well he died of a heart attack in 1992 before he could witness such insanity.
The title of the new movie is “The Lost Village.” I belong to the Lost Generation. I grew up in a country that aspired to normalcy. I was taught that time marches forward, that the clock of history does not tick backwards. As a kid, I loved the Smurfs and was a little scared of Gargamel, the evil wizard. I’ve since grown up. Give me Gargamel any day. We’ll get along just fine. Now it’s figures like the unholy rabbi, Yigal Levinstein, and his fundamentalist kind who frighten me. Or, more precisely, it’s the submissive government that is falling into their arms.
The nationalist religious right-wing government and its sycophantic collaborators (Yair Lapid et al.) say they won’t let an ISIS state be established five minutes from Ben-Gurion Airport. But meanwhile we’ve got a Taliban state five minutes from Tel Aviv. It has loony outposts in Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, the Eli pre-military academy and Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood – where this week it was decided to hold separate ceremonies on Memorial Day. At the Taliban one, there won’t be any choir of young schoolgirls taking part. (Even the sane part of the neighborhood long ago stopped having grown women singers.)
We’re living in a country that, out of cowardice and convenience, is neglecting its girls and women and even its Smurfettes. Those who see a danger of sexual provocation in little girls warbling classic Hebrew folks songs are potential pedophiles. Rabbis who call gays “perverts” and female soldiers “crazy” and “not Jewish” are themselves perverts. Public leaders who are prepared to keep 51 percent of the population out of the public arena are behaving in a vile manner. Psychosexual evaluation and diagnosis are what’s really called for here, before more damage is done.
Instead, everyone continues to give in, to look away, to close their eyes. Coalition partners have to be kept happy. Major financial interests come into play. And another factor, of course, is the weakness of multiculturalism and the distorted interpretations of terms like pluralism and liberalism. Everything is taken into consideration, except for one key principle: society’s duty to protect at all costs the victims of aggressive and oppressive coercion.
A friend of mine, a brilliant Haredi guy who is keenly aware of where he lives, told me last month that he had a new nephew. “Another kid born into a life of ignorance and foolishness, how sad,” is how he put it. Every so often, he asks me how we secular folks who claim to care about the whole world can ignore what is happening right under our noses with the ever-growing extremism of the ultra-Orthodox groups.
At least his nephew is a boy. If it were a niece, she’d have to live under the thundering imperative, so aptly put by the kowtowing PR company: “It’s not possible to depict the image of a woman or girl in Bnei Brak.”
But thanks to the inner logic of progress and with a push from the internet revolution, some encouraging, deep-running currents are evident. More religious and ultra-Orthodox girls want to go study, to work, to enlist, to integrate. The little that Israel owes them is to defend their dignity and their right to choose against those who seek to keep imprisoning and degrading them. This is the job of the state – in the real world, there is no Papa Smurf to save the day.