Post-Zionism Is So 1990s

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Originally published in The Jerusalem Post. 

You can learn a lot about a nation’s health by watching how it celebrates its national holidays. In Israel’s case, compare how we celebrated our 50th Independence Day in 1998 to what celebrations involve today.

During the 1990s, Israel’s elite took a vacation from reality and history and they brought much of the public with them.

Then-foreign minister Shimon Peres said that history was overrated. The so-called “New Historians,” who rummaged through David Ben-Gurion’s closet looking for skeletons, were the toast of the academic world. Radicals like Yossi Beilin, Shulamit Aloni and Avrum Burg were dictating government policy.

The media, the entertainment establishment, and the Education Ministry embraced and massively promoted plays, movies, television shows, songs, dances, art and books that “slayed sacred cows.” Everywhere you turned, post-Zionism was in. Post-Judaism was in. And Zionism and Judaism were both decidedly out.

As he is today, in 1998 Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister, and then as now there were prominent voices seeking to blame him for the absence of peace and every other terrible blight on the planet.

In 1998, the government invested a fortune in marking Israel’s 50th Independence Day. The main official celebration was a massive affair called Jubilee Bells that took place at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. More than 2,000 performers participated. But rather than serve as an event that unified Israeli society in celebration of 50 years of sovereign freedom, the event exposed just how far Israel’s political and cultural elite were willing to go in attacking basic societal values.

The Bat Sheva Dance Troupe was scheduled to participate in the program and present a dance set to the traditional Passover song “Ehad mi yodea,” (Who knows one). The song contains 13 stanzas that praise God, praise Jewish law, and outline the Jewish life cycle. In the number Bat Sheva was scheduled to perform, the dancers come on stage dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and by the end of the song, all they are wearing is underwear.

The choreography enraged members of Netanyahu’s cabinet including education minister Yitzhak Levy. They insisted that the program shouldn’t contain material that insulted sectors of Israeli society. The organizers tried to forge a compromise. But the dancers chose to boycott the festival.

Israel’s cultural and media establishment expressed shock and horror at what they viewed as the government’s attempt to infringe on artistic freedom. The Association of Israeli Artists demanded that a public commission be formed to ensure that the government would be unable to interfere in artistic freedom in the future. Major cultural icons declared cultural war against religious Jews.

The question of whether the dance was appropriate for an official, state- financed celebration of Independence Day was never asked. So, too, no one asked whether a dance portraying ultra-Orthodox Jews moving sensuously to a traditional Jewish song while taking off their clothes reflected the values of society.

To understand the distance Israel has traveled since then, consider Tuesday night’s Memorial Day ceremony at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. None of the performers attacked their fellow Israelis. And the best-received artist and song was Mosh Ben-Ari and his rendition of Psalm 121 – A Song of Ascent.

The psalm, which praises God as the eternal guardian of Israel, became the unofficial anthem of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009. And Ben-Ari’s rendition of the song propelled the dreadlock bedecked, hoop earring wearing world music artist into super-stardom in Israel.

IT WAS impossible to imagine Pslam 121 or any other traditional Jewish poem or prayer being performed as anything other than an object of scorn in 1998. Back then, it would have been impossible to contemplate a crowd of tens of thousands of non-religious Israelis reverently singing along as Ben-Ari crooned, “My help is from God/ Maker of Heaven and Earth/ He will not allow your foot to falter/ Your Guardian will not slumber/ Behold he neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.”

It’s not that the crowd would have necessarily booed him off the stage. He simply never would have been allowed on the stage to begin with. The 1990s was the decade that launched Aviv Gefen, the most prominent secular draft-dodger, to stardom.

Israel is no longer in the throes of an adolescent rebellion. It has regained its senses.

True, its celebrities look like Ben-Ari and not like Naomi Shemer. But the message is the same. Israel is a great country and a great nation. Zionism is in. Judaism is in. Post- Zionism is out. Post-Judaism is out.

When last year a group of performers announced they would boycott the Ariel Center for Performing Arts, the public reacted with anger and disgust, not understanding. Fearing a loss of state funding, their theater bosses quickly sought to distance themselves from the performers.

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  • Chezwick

    Five years into the new century, then Israeli PM Olmert tried to prepare the Israeli public for territorial concessions to the PA by saying: "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies." Like so many, I read those words with incredulity….for what is the alternative to winning for Israel? Unlike the Arabs, she doesn't have the luxury of losing a single war. Losing means annihilation….and a hand-shake of "peace" is far from a permanent state of grace, particularly when one's "partner" has a cultural ethos for perfidy and a theological mandate to commit genocide.

    Olmert's musings are the same mindset that compelled millions to voluntarily march into the gas chambers. It is naivety on an epic scale….an utter and total underestimation of the capacity of man for evil.

    Let's hope to God Israel has indeed grown up.

    • TALIA

      I think the public has grown up and is fed up. The problem is that the 90's generation is now in many posts of power-in the academia, in many government and administrative rolls and of course in the media- just like in the US where many radical hippies from the 60's are now "respectable" people .
      Thats the problem. The public is in a completely different place but all these people are in many positions of power

      • Chezwick

        I hear you….the ever-widening gulf in values and perception between the elite and the people. It's a pre-revolutionary dynamic.

        • intrcptr2

          In this vein, I think part of the problem is that the West, and pretty much every member of the UN, still sees Israel, and thus all Jews, as some sort of charity case who is incapable of ruling herself as an equal among the nations.
          Glick's imagery in this column reflects this conception of Israel as still, possibly eternally, endebted to the UN and Western nations in particular, for the grandly magnanimous favor of carving a state out of the desert.
          I don't think the revolt will not be an internal one in Israel but rather a political one wherein Israel finally asserts her equal sovereignty. She has been showing teases of this for nearly 40 years, but continues to blush and defer to the erstwhile USSR, the US, the UK et al. I can't tell for my own sake if a strike against Iran will make the final break or not.
          But it is coming, and the nations will be rather upset over it. But as Mosh Ben-Ari sings, "My help is from the Lord".


      Thankfully FORMER PM, Olmert speaks like a defeatist.

      Arabs/Muslims only respect strength.

      Islamofascists and their socialist allies are over playing their hand in Europe. The tide IS TURNING against the Islamofascists and socialists in Europe.

      Socialism (leftist and nationalist/fascist socialism) is failing badly in Europe.

  • Shaldag

    From the valley of the "shadow of death" to "a table set for me" and the truths of Psalm 121, Am Israel is in very good hands. As the PM mourns the passing of his father, the vision of Jabotinski, Bentsion Netanyahu and all lovers of Zion lives on in him and so many others.Baruch Hashem.

    A light unto the nations; as Israel goes so does the state of the world. That canary in the mine is alerting societies to the incoming dangers to whom all are deaf and blind, yet Israel will survive and prosper in due time: the promise of G-d though the agency of His people.

  • H&R_ Barack

    ~ REAL HEROS :

    Benzion Netanyahu, father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dies at 102

    The elder Netanyahu was a prominent Israeli historian and a leader in the Revisionist Zionism movement, under its founder Ze'ev Jabotinsky

  • Ghostwriter

    Anytime now,I expect to see those like Schlockmotion make their usual nasty comments about Jews here. It's only a matter of time.

  • YetWave

    Another hard hitting, honest appraisal from one of the most cogent obesrvers of Israel.
    Now if the holdouts would only get the message…

  • Ronald Johnston

    I was privileged to be invited to Israel in the late 1980's on a tour of the irrigation suppliers who furnished us most of our drip irrigation materials. They gave us a tour of the factories, but the most impressive tours were to the historical and biblical sites as well as the well-run farms. I never felt so safe in my life as walking the streets among Arabs and Jews who obviously appreciated each other. Most of the Arabs were Israeli citizens and had all the rights and freedoms that the Jewish people had. I saw no policemen, but could not get out of sight of the young soldiers, male and female with an Uzi on their shoulder. Maybe that is what it takes to keep the peace! I would hate to think what will happen if war breaks out again over there. The Israeli people are the bravest in this world and will prevail in any conflict.