Debating ‘Israeliness’
Hebrew Media Review

Debating ‘Israeliness’

Memorial Day comes early this year, as the papers mourn the deaths of a famed filmmaker and a stabbing victim

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Assi Dayan in 2013 (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Assi Dayan in 2013 (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Ahead of the national Memorial Day that commences on Sunday evening, the Israeli press Friday ushers in the collective grief a few days early, lamenting the death of beloved filmmaker Assi Dayan, 68, and the fatal stabbing of 19-year-old Shelley Dadon in northern Israel a day earlier.

The outpour of tributes for Dayan and his death’s proximity to Independence Day on Tuesday ignites a debate about Israeli identity and Israeli culture — a move that swiftly segues to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he intends to personally advance a Basic Law to etch Israel’s status as a Jewish state into constitutional legislation.

Both Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth draw explicit parallels between the iconic filmmaker and his state.

“If they were to take a survey on who is ‘Israeli’ in your eyes, Assi Dayan would certainly be in the top 10,” Sima Kadmon writes in a front-page obituary in Yedioth.

“The 68 turbulent years of his life — nearly the number of the years of the state’s existence — reflects in many ways the changes that took place [in Israel]. From the time it was a young state, full of charm, aspirational, with abundant talent and creativity, and through its ugly, ailing, sickly maturity, its many addictions and self-destructiveness.

“Dayan, like the State of Israel, is the mad genius, hyperactive, the man of contradictions and moodiness, who began [his life] with great promise, made remarkable achievements, and at the end of his life remained alone with his despair, with his pain, with his weakness.”

The editorial in Haaretz defines Dayan as someone who “speaks Israeli.”

“The answer to the question about whether there is an original Israeli culture is probably Assi Dayan,” it writes. “As a filmmaker, Dayan knew the European classics and was influenced by them, but his films were local — they spoke to Israelis in ‘Israeli.’

“It is tempting to see in Dayan’s biography a parable for the State of Israel. A talented young man, handsome and promising (Uri in “He Walked through the Fields”), a scion of the Dayan aristocracy from the Jezreel Valley who over the years got embroiled in trouble and arguments, deteriorated psychologically and physically, and finally broke under the yoke of the ‘Dayan’ promise and the personal demons that pursued him.”

Assi Dayan, with his son, Lior, in 1985. Lior Dayan was temporarily placed in foster care after his parents divorced (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)
Assi Dayan, with his son, Lior, in 1985. Lior Dayan was temporarily placed in foster care after his parents divorced. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

However, to forge the parallel would be unfair to the “individual, nonconformist, who never missed an opportunity to rebel and go his own way,” and who resolutely opposed representing the collective Israeli society, the editorial concludes.

The death of a young woman on her way to a job interview in the Lower Galilee town of Migdal Haemek — in what may have been a terror attack — also takes top billing in Friday’s papers, in spite of a gag order barring publication of much of the information.

Israel Hayom reports that police have confirmed to the paper that the investigation of the stabbing of Shelley Dadon is leaning heavily toward considering it a nationalistic attack.

Yedioth provides more background about the victim, writing that she had recently been discharged from the IDF for medical reasons.

“I never believed a thing like this could happen,” Dadon’s brother told the paper. “I lost my only sister. She’s the angel of Afula. She was just going to a job interview and was murdered. For what? She never hurt anyone.”

Relatives described Shelley as “a good girl, who received the best education and excelled in everything she did.”

Shelley Dadon, 19, (photo credit: Facebook)
Shelley Dadon, 19 (photo credit: Facebook)

Haaretz quotes the acting mayor of Afula — Dadon’s hometown — Shlomo Malihi, who is acquainted with the victim’s family.

“It’s a very difficult time; people can’t process what happened,” he said.

“If the investigation shows Shelley was killed for nationalistic reasons, it will cause unrest in Afula. We’ve been through many difficult events; it will likely stir up difficult things from the past.”

The two deaths on Thursday take precedence over Netanyahu’s Jewish-state legislation remarks in both Israel Hayom and Yedioth — which bury the story deep in the paper — but not so with Haaretz.

The paper leads with the story, providing additional information about the proposed legislation. The bill will be based on a recent formulation presented by MK Yariv Levin (Likud) and MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), weighed against recommendations by Professor Ruth Gavison, who was appointed by the government to articulate a Jewish-democratic legal balance; and a proposal by Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon, who sought to adapt the values elucidated in the Declaration of Independence into the Basic Laws.

The paper writes that the Levin-Shaked proposal is a “relatively moderate version” of a bill on the subject presented by Kadima MK Avi Dichter in the previous coalition that was subsequently shot down. The new draft omits Dichter’s insistence that Arabic not be considered an official state language, and does not maintain that the democratic nature of the state be secondary to its Jewish nature, it reports.

However, the paper points out, the revised bill only cites the state’s commitment to democracy in the second article, following its pledge to uphold its Jewish character.

Remember, remember

Both Israel Hayom and Yedioth feature articles on the upcoming Memorial Day, listing the number of fallen Israelis since 1860 at 23,169, including 57 new victims — many of whom were injured during their army service and succumbed to their wounds — in the past year.

Yedioth reports on a new application called “We will remember everyone,” which features background information on fallen soldiers for users scanning the gravestones with a smartphone.

“I noticed that alongside the famous victims, whose stories are well known, there are many whose stories are unknown,” said David Ansbacher, 46, who is behind the new app.

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