The Devil and Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu

In a throwback to medieval times, everyone on Israel’s right and left is trying to find their own demon for the country’s woes.

Benny Ziffer
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Illustration of two people fighting over a microphone.
A war of mutual demonization, Israeli-style.Credit: Eran Wolkowski
Benny Ziffer

As many probably know, my personal connection to Mrs. Netanyahu and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has granted me several privileges. First and foremost, I’ve become a TV celebrity, invited to appear on current events shows where my opinion is sought on various issues about which I often have no definitive information.

In other words, it turns out the media – which to many seems like the last bastion of democracy, reason and enlightenment – is often based on mystical or magical beliefs – to the effect that the supernatural powers of our leaders are allocated to those in their proximity (i.e., me), granting me the authority to publicly express my opinion.

If I continue to play the role of TV celebrity, it’s because there is one thing I can say authoritatively: After some 40 years working in the media, I have realized that the various forms of journalism – from the most serious to the most superfluous – are in effect a type of religion, which come to give their readers or viewers the feeling that there is order, logic and meaning to what is happening in the world. In that context, the writer or commentator, just like a preacher or imam, hopes or believes that what they write or say is true. But aside from that faith, they have nothing else to cling to.

For example, when I read the river of words spilled on the possible motives for the deadly suicide bombing in Istanbul on Tuesday, I find that, exactly as with Nashat Melhem – who killed three people in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day – the role of the commentator becomes increasingly similar to that of a religious leader: To mutter or mumble things that give viewers/readers a sense that there is order in the world, and that everything happens for a reason. After all, if he tells his audience the truth – that, actually, he doesn’t have a clue why it happened – he’ll be seen as betraying his calling.

In fact, it’s not difficult to see that today’s media consumers want to be told that every act of terror is perpetrated by the Islamic State group. That way, the audience breathes a collective sigh of relief, because this organizes the world for them in the same way that priests used to arrange things in the Middle Ages. Back then, they told people that all of the world’s evils emanated from the Devil. A more complex picture of the world would have confused them, just as it confuses modern viewers and readers.

In the case of Turkey, for example, the terror there is sometimes the work of Kurdish or left-wing underground organizations. But even when they assure us that the terrorist was inspired by ISIS, what does that actually mean? For anyone who isn’t looking for quick mystical religious consolation, the magic word “ISIS” won’t add a thing.

That old black magic

In the same religious-mystical way, people called leftists often speak of the extreme right as a diabolical organization – in much the same way Christian religious leaders were capable of speaking about the Jews. And what’s interesting is that the media, even the most serious of its members, doesn’t refrain from encouraging consumers to be enticed by this type of magic.

Over time, the right also began to understand this magic trick and started presenting the left as a diabolical organization that’s only interested in subverting the existing order. To be fair, the left started all of this demonization during the early days of the Yishuv (prestate Israel). It took the right a long time to pay the left back in kind. And now we’re in the midst of this process of counter-demonization – in other words, demonization of the left by the right.

The left simply cannot accept the fact that it could be perceived as demonic. It is also unwilling to admit it is organized in the same way as organizations with “malicious” intentions – such as the right-wing Im Tirtzu, for example. And when Ilana Dayan’s investigative TV program “Uvda” (“Fact”) presented findings that portrayed a certain left-wing activist, who worked for a specific left-wing organization, in a manner that could be called diabolical, the left shouted in unison that it was being demonized and Dayan was denounced as being someone who had just joined a satanic cult.

All this demonstrates that true atheism is embraced by very few, and the rest are religious, or even fanatically religious, people who simply can’t admit it. These religious people don’t believe in God, but they strongly believe in the Devil – that mysterious, magical creature who must be fought to the bitter end, because without him life could be so nice and normal.

For some, the Devil is the settlers, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu, and the right in general. And there are others who believe the Devil is organizations such as Breaking the Silence, Ta’ayush, Haaretz, and the left in general.

The latest development in this mutual demonization war is that two new demons have been identified: For the right, the latest demon is the left-wing activist (whose name is the subject of a gag order) suspected of criminal collaboration with a foreign agent. The left, in response, has netted its own serious demon: the right-wing, satanic, treacherous, shameless journalist Ilana Dayan.