Why I Can't Defend Minister Miri Regev

The culture minister claims to be battling on behalf of Jews from Muslim states, so why does she reserve her strongest vitriol for Arabs and leftists?

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Miri Regev.Credit: Michal Fattal

Reading the op-ed by Merav Alush Levron (“Israel's 'Enlightened' Liberals Show Their True Colors") gave me a feeling of déjà vu. When I read it again, I realized why: I could have written the same or a similar piece a few months ago. That’s why I must open by thanking her; her thoughts immediately dissipated the fog that came from a profound moral ambivalence and conflict between loyalty to my Mizrahi identity and my political perception of what’s right and just. I now know where I stand.

I stand on the opposite bank from Alush Levron’s piece and the actions of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. My earlier dilemma was embodied in the words of G.K. Chesterton to which Alush Levron wisely referred, which describe how universal intellectuals are emotionally cold; they have a general love for mankind but hate particular groups of people.

I harbor a deep resistance to speaking in support of those chilly inheritors of the earth, those members of the committee that eternally presides over Israeli culture, who preen in their superiority like those bourgeois women showing off their mink stoles as they walk along the avenue.

All this and more hid from me the simple fact that Regev and I don’t pray to the same god.

Perhaps I should begin, as recommended by Chesterton’s literary hero, Father Brown, “at the abstract end of things.”

Regev’s remarks at last week’s Haaretz Culture Conference were interpreted by Alush Levron as a self-aware rhetorical move, in which Regev spit back at the audience the grotesque image it had created of her in order to minimize it, using the linguistic gesture known as hyperbole – which uses deliberate exaggeration as a stylistic device.

But Regev suffers from chronic hyperbole, and her attitude toward reality – and, therefore, her responses to it – is characterized by intense exaggeration.

Do we need to recall such gems as “The Sudanese are a cancer in our body,” or “Go to Gaza, you traitor” (to MK Haneen Zoabi) or “Lift him up in his chair like it’s his birthday. Then throw him to Gaza” (to MK Jamal Zahalka).

There wasn’t anything particularly new about her opening remarks at the conference, “Cut the bullshit.” But they revealed something that I think Alush Levron missed: that these pearls of wisdom are reserved for Regev’s bitterest enemies – refugees, Arabs and leftists.

If Regev’s struggle was really aimed at correcting the damage done by the “exclusion and racism” toward the Mizrahim and those living in the periphery, I wouldn’t add anything to what Alush Levron has written. After all, dismantling the old mechanisms that created the cultural canon will not happen by itself.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intervention in the work of the committee awarding the Israel Prize for literature was just the opening shot of this process. None of the honorable gentlemen running between various panels of judges or managing cultural institutions will give up their privileges voluntarily.

So why am I not applauding these moves? Because when Netanyahu was pushed closer to the wall, he explained his intervention by describing the panel of Israel Prize judges as “anti-Israel extremists.”

And when Regev looked out at the audience at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last week, she saw a sea of liberal leftists.

Ashkenazism for her is merely a repulsive side effect. Regev is far less Frantz Fanon than she is Marine Le Pen. We must choose other heroes to effect this necessary change – or maybe we should do it ourselves?

They’ve told me it’s good to end with a quote, which is why I will conclude with one from an ancient Moroccan sage – my mother: “The fact they’re one of us doesn’t mean we should forgive them for their foolishness. On the contrary.”