Monday, December 23, 2002

More Tommy Lapid (my apologies to those of you who are fed up of this subject).
A Tel Aviv chef and TV personality, Tzahi Bukshaster, used to have a TV program where he took celebrities to their favorite restaurants. He once took Tommy Lapid to Yehudit’s Hungarian restaurant in Gan Hair. I had often walked past Yehudit’s, sat for a coffee and a cake in its outdoor coffee shop and a couple of times had even bought cakes to go, but I was completely unaware of this culinary treasure at the back. Lapid remarks on the food were a delight. He was obviously in his element, oozing with charm, as usual, and enjoying the food that he loved. Yehudit’s couldn’t have dreamt of a better advertisement. Since then, until I read Shavit’s article, I was under the impression that Lapid was Hungarian.

Tommy Lapid is everything Mitzna is not and never can be. Mitzna is a cold fish. His smile on his campaign posters is so frozen and unnatural, it’s hard to tell if he’s smiling or trying to get a fish bone out of his teeth with his tongue without anyone noticing. Tommy is outrageous and infuriating, but he has this irresistible, mischievous twinkle in his eye. That twinkle along with his sincerity and the warmth of his voice, are completely captivating.

Diane seems to find offense in the fact that his wife, besides being a successful and accomplished writer, is also a “Bala Busta” and takes joy in indulging her husband’s love of good “heimisher” food. He likes eating. She likes feeding him. Where’s the problem? Granted, Tommy doesn’t sound like an easy partner, but this doesn’t mean she’s an oppressed wife in a demeaning relationship. She makes the soup and feeds the guests. He takes down the garbage. This is family life. Shavit has twisted it to make it seem ugly, and Diane fell for it. But it isn’t ugly at all, it’s heart warming. This looks like a normal, warm relationship between two consenting, independent adults. She’s not in it because she’s economically dependent on him. She’s in it because she chooses to be.

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Diane has pointed out some apparent contradictions in what I’ve been saying and I’d like to sort things out.

She fails to see why I dislike Shavit’s article so much. As I said before, it’s part of a whole campaign in Israel, embraced by all and sundry, to de-legitimize and demonize Tommy Lapid and Shinui. For secular parties, Shinui is a big threat, with its clean image and clear message. Shas, doing very badly in the polls, and badly in need of a resident Goldstein (i.e. someone to hate), has apparently published a pamphlet announcing that Tommy is a Nazi. This is rich, coming from a party that, if I am not mistaken (I can’t find a link), was recently cautioned by Judge Heshin, the elections’ overseer, for announcing, as part of its platform, that it intends to appoint only Sephardim for public office.

Whatever you think about Tommy’s often-controversial views, branding him a racist is wrong, and de-legitimizing his party, which represents the views of a large portion of moderate, sensible Israelis, is alarming. His party is not about keeping the Mizrahim down. What nonsense! That’s just Shas propaganda. For one thing, Shinui is about stopping the outrage of the ultra-religious feeding off us like leeches, while refusing to contribute to the economy, to serve in the army, or even to contribute the minimum suggested to them of a fortnight a year doing national service in hospitals or religious schools or the like, and at the same time actively, even vehemently trying to force us secular people into accepting their way of life. The anger about this among Israelis is immense.

The left is forever accusing the Israeli right and the religious for undermining Israeli democracy, but I think trying to paint Lapid as a racist, which fits nicely in with Amram Mitzna, Yoel Marcus and the likes thinking that anyone who disagrees with them needs their head examined, is also detrimental to Israel’s delicate political balance.

By the way, I’d like to point out that Shinui is not just Tommy Lapid. Shinui is home to one of the Knesset’s most hardworking and productive parliamentarians, Tommy’s rather lackluster, but soft-spoken no.2, Avraham Poraz. Poraz, aware of his shortcomings, made the deal of his life, before the last elections, when he brought in Tommy to replace Amnon Rubinstein as Shinui’s figurehead.

Diane also wonders why I dislike Shavit’s article so much, given my opposition to an Israeli “European” self-image as promoted by Lapid, which I call "Europeanism", and to the belief in European cultural superiority, which she calls “Lapidism”. By the way, Diane, I’m not saying we don’t have European roots, although I have my reservations about how deep they are, and in my comment to Jonathan’s post I was reacting to his assertion that Jerusalem was Eastern while Tel Aviv was European.

I know a lot of “Lapidists”. As I said yesterday, I regard them as dinosaurs. I don’t mean this in an offensive way. I just mean that they are on the way out. Their way of thinking has become irrelevant. I don’t think they are racist and I am strongly opposed to their way of thinking being de-legitimized. Some people find Mizrahi music boring and some (infinitely more, actually) find classical music boring. I personally enjoy both, but then I’m a bit of a weirdo, aren’t I? To each their own. “Lapidism” is not Shinui’s platform. Lapidism is his personal preference. He’s not preaching discrimination, quite the opposite.

Furthermore, his opposition to sitting in a coalition with Arab parties is not because they are Arab parties, as such, but because by no stretch of the imagination could any of them be regarded as Zionist and because their leading Knesset members have blatantly and repeatedly expressed their support for the Palestinian violent struggle.

A few words about Israeli Europeanism, as I see it:
Jews were always considered an alien element in Europe. As I see it, the intentional destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis, with quite a lot of support from various nations they were occupying at the time (by saying this I am not belittling the courageous people who helped the Jews in this dark era, but rather elevating them), is one of the results of the first real appearance of acceptance of Jews in Western European society, in the guise of the emancipation. Claims that Israel is a European colonizing agent are therefore particularly ironic and unjust.

The first Jews to arrive here, not for religious reasons but to begin to realize the Zionist vision of a return of the Jewish people to their homeland, were European. In fact, the whole idea grew out of European emerging nationalism, which had no place for perceived foreign elements such as the Jews. But how European were these first settlers, really? Most of those who came to live here, initially, were breaking out of the confinements of Jewish traditional communities in Russia and Poland. European philosophy and idealism were something new and exciting for them, not something they had encountered in their Eastern European Jewish homes, in the “Heder” or in the Yeshiva, not something they had grown up with. How European are today’s ultra-religious Jews of Mea Shearim? These people live in a world of their own, not only unreceptive to external influences, but actively fighting against them. This is the world the first Zionist settlers in the Land of Israel came from. That they should have the good sense to embrace Western European values of democracy and personal freedom is not obvious. It took Russia and Poland, the countries they came from, many more years to embrace these values.

The Jewish Zionists of the first half of the twentieth century built a secular European-style society here, in defiance of the Jewish religious world they came from. The Yekkes, the highly educated secular German Jews, fleeing Nazi Germany in the thirties, were welcomed even as their stiff European manners were widely ridiculed. Hundreds of thousands of displaced and often badly traumatized Holocaust survivors, mainly from Eastern Europe, also managed to somehow build a home for themselves in this Europeanist atmosphere, quite naturally. Among them was the young Tommy Lapid.

When hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries flowed in, they were also expected to assimilate into the prevalent Europeanism, which must have been completely bewildering for many of them. It seems that on the whole, they sincerely attempted to, initially. But much of their acceptance of this Europeanism was superficial, and they eventually rebelled.

I wrote yesterday about the subsequent cultural transformations, which I think we are still in the midst of. I strongly believe that shedding off an exclusively European self-image is important for the development of an Israeli society that is a natural and integral part of the Middle East. This doesn’t mean lowering our standards. This means enjoying the richness of our diverse society, accepting and dealing with the more problematic aspects of it and not succumbing to dangerous tendencies.