Opinion

Thank You, Miri Regev

Only the cancellation of the visit by soccer star Lionel Messi managed to bring down the culture minister, 'Bibi's proxy and Sara's bestie'

Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaking during a press conference following the cancellation of the game between the Israeli and Argentine national soccer teams.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

It’s not the 100 Gazans killed near the border fence. It’s not the intolerable lives of the human beings who live here alongside us. It’s not even the difficult daily lives of our valorous brethren down south, in communities near the Gaza Strip. None of these have produced shock and agitation on the scale aroused by the cancellation of a friendly soccer match between the Argentine and Israeli teams.

It’s not her calling human beings “a cancer”; it’s not her calling people “tight-assed” and all her other attempts to intimidate, humiliate and ride roughshod over Israeli artists, with blatant cynicism, in order to earn a few headlines. Only the cancellation of a visit by soccer star Lionel Messi managed to bring down Miri Regev, “Bibi’s proxy and Sara’s bestie,” as one future contender for the Likud party’s crown scornfully called her.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s chronic disloyalty to his battered subordinates – from Yuval Steinitz to Zeev Elkin, from Gilad Erdan to Ofir Akunis – is as certain as the sunrise. Nevertheless, the humiliating blow Regev suffered, not just from the general public, but even from her Likud base – which, when it wants to, knows how to zealously defend its own when they’re under assault – isn’t a small matter. It’s too early to tell what this affair’s long-term political implications will be, but over the past few days, the culture minister’s stock has fallen by double digits.

This affair even aroused the well-bred dead of the opposition. I can’t remember another response as harsh and pointed as those aimed over the last few days directly at Regev’s soft underbelly. Suddenly, the opposition is acting as if it really wanted to win, rather than hiding fearfully behind fawning tweets about all-night study sessions on Shavuot.

What can we conclude from this story? What can we learn from this sharp, bipolar switch from the arrogant top of the world (“We’ll see who will shake whose hand”) to the abyss of disappointment and dismay?

The conclusion, which ought to depress every Israeli patriot, is that only international pressure of the kind generated by Messi and Co. can cause any stir here whatsoever. Only when Israelis feel that their good life, their connection to the wider world – trips to soccer games in Barcelona, participation in Eurovision, shopping at Uniqlo and strolls down the Champs-Elysee, all without visas or any other annoying bureaucratic problems – is in danger will they stop and ask themselves a few simple questions.

For instance, are the racism and settlement obsession of Bezalel Smotrich and Elkin, the destruction of democracy by Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin, Netanyahu’s turning his back on a diplomatic solution, the politicization and aggressive nationalism represented by Regev – are all these worth the normal, natural desire to live as we can and should? To spoil our children, take them to a game, rejoice with them over a performance by an international artist, be a citizen of the Western world with all it has to offer, rather than a subject of an isolationist theocracy with militaristic traits?

Instead of repenting her mistakes, Regev decided to continue digging herself in deeper, saying that if next year’s Eurovision isn’t held in Jerusalem, there’s no reason to hold it In Israel at all. We should thank her for that. It’s definitely high time to confront Israelis with the key question: an Israeli flag in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, or Messi in Israel? Apartheid in Hebron, or Eurovision in Israel?

Today, when the left has been subject to character assassination and delegitimization, critical discussion has virtually ceased to exist at home. And the alternative of international pressure is greatly preferable to the disaster of an intifada, a war or the destruction of democracy – catastrophic scenarios which, if, heaven forbid, they came to pass, would divert Israel from its disastrous path at a terrible and unnecessary price in blood. This alternative will return Israel to basic Zionism – that it’s right to divide the land and ensure equal rights for all its residents – without exacting a cost in human lives.

So thank you, Miri Regev. Somehow, you’ve turned into a genuine, courageous public servant.