Israel's 'Enlightened' Liberals Show Their True Colors

At the recent Haaretz Culture Conference the audience was upset — but it's not Minister Miri Regev who is the real source of their fears.

 Merav Alush Levron
Merav Alush Levron
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Culture Minister Miri Regev speaking at the Haaretz Culture Conference, March 6, 2016.
Culture Minister Miri Regev speaks at the Haaretz Culture Conference, Sunday March 6, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod
 Merav Alush Levron
Merav Alush Levron

Miri Regev opened her speech at the Haaretz Culture Conference by tossing out a rhetorical bait in order to warm up the audience. “They told me to always begin with a quote, because that makes a cultured impression, so here it is.” The members of the audience wondered about the anticipated quote, unaware that they would soon be responding to it with jeers, which have long since become standard at their conferences of concerned people. Indeed the booing came on the heels of the minister’s deliberately hollow quote, chosen to mock the her critics’ concept of themselves, and at the same time to reflect her own (self-aware) return to the stance of the ostensibly unsophisticated one.

“Cut da bullshit,” shouted Regev at the audience which was “not her audience.” “Boo,” they replied, responding to her call. The reactions to a politically iconic figure like Regev are an excellent tool for analyzing the balance of powers among competing social groups, their self-perception and the contradictions in those perceptions. In that sense, the culture minister knows exactly how to provoke the audience in a way that reveals the limits of these enlightened liberals.

Her plan to promote the “cultural loyalty” bill is dangerous and anti-democratic, but the herdlike attack against her at the conference was not an expression of dread of the law. It was not fear of undermining the value of equality or the freedom of expression of Arab artists, for example, that reverberated in the hall. The incitement, the disdain, the disingenuous demand that she give an example of discrimination against those in the periphery of the country, and the epithet “hypocrite” hurled at her were all triggered by her presentation of the main points of her reform. They were a show of concern for the loss of control of the holy of holies of the hegemony.

Regev exposed the sense of threat felt by those who see themselves as part of “enlightened civilization,” which is panic-stricken at the prospect of being undermined by the “wild other.” It is therefore clear that those who favor distributive justice in culture and defense of human rights have no allies among the “enlightened people.”

As a report by Ahoti (My Sister - a movement of Mizrahi feminist activists) noted, over 90 percent of the budget of the Culture Administration goes to hegemonic culture. For years the same people can be found in key positions, defining what constitutes a “high-quality” work, deciding what is worthy of being included in the national repertoire and what is not. The same decision-makers are blind to new cultural streams. They find it difficult to understand the language that is reshaping politics and aesthetics, or grasp alternatives to those hunkering down in the villa in the jungle.

Jewish-Arab music, the Jewish piyyut (liturgical poem), the Andalusian Orchestra, Ethiopian creativity, multicultural theater, fringe theater in the periphery, which create a contemporary East-West culture, creators of visual arts who aren’t invited to the club – they and others are failing the tests created by the sons of the gods in order to guarantee control over cultural knowledge.

Regev must past the test of fulfilling her promises, and her present proposal even treads unjustly on flowerbeds that also deserve to be watered. But it is shocking to see once again that a call for repairing the damage caused by exclusion and racism towards Mizrahi Jews (from North Africa and the Middle East) and the country’s outlying areas gives rise to Pavlovian opposition and mockery.

British author and philosopher Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote in his book “An Impractical Man” about the universal intellectuals who think that their love of man is immersed in a peculiar chill. If you ask them whether they love mankind, they will reply frankly that they really do love it. But if you ask them about one of the components of mankind, you will discover that they hate all of them. It seems that they have something in common with our peculiar and prominent liberals.

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