Prepackaged Protest and Righteous Indignation

Why did Sara Netanyahu's dress attract such attention? It's because she exposed not only her body but also her disturbing lack of self-awareness. That is why the public discourse was necessary.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

This is how the system works: Sara Netanyahu wears an astoundingly inappropriate dress, both for her position and her figure, to the swearing in of the new Knesset. Feminists automatically fire back that the body of the prime minister's wife should be off-limits for discussion and that her wardrobe should not be judged according to piggish, chauvinistic standards.

Meanwhile, a Yes satellite TV commercial featuring comedic actress Julia-Louis Dreyfus laughing at a fat woman prompts immediate retorts from groups such as the Na'amat women's organization and the Yedid community empowerment group, as well as from MK Nachman Shai. They object to the commercial as offensive to "weight-challenged people" and, of course, to women's dignity.

The Israel Tax Authority simultaneously runs an ad campaign against undeclared income – or, in the words of the commercial, "black money." This immediately prompts outrage over the pejorative use of the word "black."

In reality, all this supposed indignation is just a lot of self-righteousness. It focuses on trivialities over substance, thereby perpetuating chauvinism, racism and discrimination based on appearance. Every writer, spokesperson and gossip columnist in the country jumped at the opportunity to comment on the photo of the First Lady and her dress – including those same feminists who two hours later took to Facebook to condemn that despicable preoccupation with a woman's body.

So why did Sara Netanyahu's dress attract such attention? It's because she exposed not only her body but also her disturbing lack of self-awareness. That is why the public discourse was necessary. If her husband, King Bibi, had shown up to be sworn in to the Knesset in a butterfly-hunting suit or a tap dancer's outfit, we would be equally amazed. We would, with similarly amused equanimity, discuss the lack of awareness demonstrated by an elected official – awareness of his own appearance and probably also of himself as a person.

More than a few lines have been written about the prime minister's hairdo. This, it is argued, is evidence on his part of a certain level of denial and a clumsy effort to conceal his perceived shortcomings. But would anyone say that the criticism of the prime minister amounted to hatred of men?

The Yes commercial is offensive to some not because it derides the "weight challenged" among us, but rather because it undermines the politically correct discourse that many embrace. It makes them feel a little better about themselves, and a lot of people make a living from making people feel this way. The commercial portrays a woman who is coarse and tactless and who insults everyone she encounters. In the process, she gives a form and a voice, however exaggerated or distorted, to the thoughts that might occur to any of us. It deals directly, as it should, with the growing problem of obesity in the Western world, albeit harshly. And it does so through humor, perhaps the most important way to instill self-awareness and self-protection.

The Tax Authority's advertising campaign is problematic first and foremost because, in encouraging the public to turn in tax evaders, it puts the responsibility on the public, when in fact the responsibility should lie with the authority. It isn't racist, like the government policy of not collecting taxes from entire segments of the population and doing virtually nothing to integrate them into society. Refraining from using the word "black" doesn't solve the real problem, and that is the fact that there are segments of the population of the State of Israel who don't view themselves as part of the country, do not reap its benefits and do not share its burdens. That's the problem we should be discussing.

Smugness and excessive criticism should be met with sensitivity and reason. We shouldn't respond like some kind of vending machine that automatically dispenses prepackaged righteous indignation and protest. You want to talk about the status of women? Let's voice our outrage over the disgraceful fact that women earn less than men. You want to deal with the problem of racism? Let's fight for equal rights and obligations for all segments of the population. You want to deal with body image? Let's talk about a consumer culture that stuffs us with food and plenty of other things we don't need, for the benefit of the few. Self-righteousness and purism don’t solve the problem. They just sweep it under the rug, further and further from our consciousness.

Sara Netanyahu in the Knesset. Not exactly an intimate moment.Credit: Emil Salman

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