Opinion

The Demolition of Israeli Literature

Writers never had it good. The state never supported them, but now, spearheaded by Culture Minister Miri Regev, it is actually trying to destroy them.

Culture Minister Miri Regev in 2015
Marc Israel Sellem

Authors are by nature malleable and publicity-seeking people, which is why it’s easy to manipulate them at the marketing stage, giving them prizes here and there while telling them it’s not important how much money they make – the main thing is that people read them. This is what bookstores and publishers rely on.

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Writers never had it good. The state never supported them, but now, spearheaded by Culture Minister Miri Regev, it is actually trying to destroy them. It’s not personal. It’s part of what is happening with other state systems. The existence of a monopoly or duopoly is the clear reason authors are robbed of their earnings, turning diversity into a monolithic or “duolithic” entity. Whether she’s operating out of some vested interest or as part of a plan to reduce the diversity of voices so that it’s possible to control them, as she has said with regard to the public broadcasting authority, it seems that Regev is trying to shoot down anything that smacks of a culture which embraces diversity, that is experimental, critical and broad.

Let’s start with Chekhov. It’s no coincidence that she latched on to him, saying she’s never read him. Miri Regev is against Chekhov since she is against a Russian mindset, which sees in cultural excellence something a person must embrace. In the eyes of Regev, ignorance is strength. Chekhov is a parable for art that is timeless, which is why it must be shattered, along with the base it stands on. This is the cause of her fight against the film foundations, which strive for openness and multiculturalism.

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Those who, in the name of a Mizrahi culture, support the petty commissar who is out to smash multiculturalism, the lifeblood of any open and creative society, are making a big mistake. There is no Mizrahi or Western culture, there is only culture. This leads to the conclusion that Miri Regev is an old-guard Soviet or Fascist functionary. Or maybe she reflects the new discourse, whereby there is no place for you unless you recite the party line, one that foments violence and aggression, racism and division.

Writers, more than others, have an irrepressible urge to go out and see things as they are, to point out deep-lying currents, to describe reality and what it may lead to. This land has produced such writers. They may even be awarded the Israel Prize. From here it’s but a short hop to rescinding the “book law.”

This law was intended to protect small and midsize publishing houses, as well as independent booksellers, from the chains. And yes, to protect authors from the duopoly. An author would be foolish to believe that sales of four books for 100 shekels ($28) would make him or her famous. Good, interesting writing is what’s important. But when only the giants, Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir and Yedioth Books,remain, things will be simpler. Only they will determine what constitutes quality. In a somewhat gloomy forecast, one could argue that the government will see to it that only the safe, reliable accomplices will get awards and everything will fall into place. Under those circumstances, who will speak out against the establishment and which author would write something against the culture minister’s dictatorship?

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One shouldn’t expect the house writers at Dvir Zmora-Bitan Kinneret or Yedioth Ahronoth to rise up against this move. It’s also hard to expect the smaller and midsize publishers, which depend on the book chains, to voice their objection. They’re not crazy. How do they differ from anyone touting liberalism while waiting for the ill winds to blow away on their own? They will pass, but until then how many great writers will we miss? The ignorant believe that writers shouldn’t make a living by writing, through their talent. They believe books are measured by weight, that they can be imported from Turkey or that they can be given as a franchise to some tycoon. What an idea! A monopoly or a duopoly? How nice.

True readers would not set foot in chain bookstores, only in ones run by independent booksellers. Authors are the medium through which a society’s subconscious bursts into the light of day. Therein lies their power. Therein lies our strength as a society. If you kill the spirit, it will move elsewhere. And then, what a barren place this will be.