At one point during President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday extravaganza Tuesday night, Channel 2 anchor Yonit Levy commented that “the Peres celebration has proved that if you live long enough, even the people who disagree with you will like you.” Yet while much of the Israeli public and the mainstream media were showering the president with saccharine praise, a series of primarily left-wing journalists and trend-setting social media users were busy proving the inverse: That even a shared political vision guarantees nothing.
“As a journalist working in television (Channel 10) for nearly three years, the festival surrounding the birthday of President Shimon Peres gives me stomach cramps,” wrote Israeli journalist Bar Shem-Ur, one of many to express dismay at the costly, lavish display and lack of dissent in the mainstream media coverage. (The festivities reportedly cost some NIS 11 million — about $3 million — funded through donations.)
“The best journalists, who ordinarily issue scathing criticism of everyone, are now holding microphones at the ICC and praising ‘the only politician who can bring Sharon Stone and Bill Clinton to Israel,’” he continued. “Witty and admirable news anchors say to themselves in an indignant tone, ‘What the hell am I doing here’ as the cameras go off.”
Shem-Ur maintained that although he did in fact believe that Peres is a man of peace who should be appreciated for his contribution to the state, he was uncomfortable with the unprecedented media attention awarded the president’s party.
“After so many years of public hatred and resentment, [Peres] really just wants to be loved,” he concluded.
Ynet columnist Ariana Melamed accused the president of inviting an “awkward mix of oligarchs and models” to prove to the world that he is loved.
“Did you, for one moment during that night full of glamour, wealth, and horrible public relations scripts, feel a little embarrassed? Or have we already lost this feature altogether as a people and as a society, leaving only to celebrate what we don’t have — from our bat mitzva till the age of 90,” Melamed wrote.
“May we see better days, without ridiculously pompous celebrations as seen this evening,” she said.
TV personality and journalist Yaron London said he too thought the celebrations were unnecessary.
“It didn’t add any national pride; it even humiliated me a little,” London told Army Radio on Wednesday.
The social media sphere was also atwitter with posts poking fun at Peres, many of which employed the hashtag #PeresMania.
“When do the North Korean dancers begin their act?” one user asked sarcastically.
“If you feel today is hotter than usual, that’s because the candles from Peres’s cake raised the earth’s temperature by a couple of degrees,” quipped another.
Comparing Peres to another celebrity marking a birthday on the same day, Yoav Rabinowitz ventured to claim that Peres was undeserving of his political status and had only reached his current position as a result of the country’s shock at the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
“Congratulations to Paul McCartney, who if John Lennon weren’t murdered would have otherwise been honored as the greatest musician of the twentieth century,” he wrote. “And congratulations to Shimon Peres, who if Yitzhak Rabin wasn’t assassinated would otherwise receive the status of just a power hunger, petty politician.”
Although Peres’s actual birthday is in August, celebrations began this week in conjunction with the 2013 Israel Presidential Conference, held Tuesday through Thursday in Jerusalem.