Hebrew media review

In debate on censoring culture, ifs and butts take center stage

Amid conversation on shutting up artists, papers have a hard time getting behind one performer who makes his argument where the sun doesn’t shine

Artist Ariel Bronz getting personal with a flag at a Haaretz conference in Tel Aviv on March 6, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube/Haaretz)
Artist Ariel Bronz getting personal with a flag at a Haaretz conference in Tel Aviv on March 6, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube/Haaretz)

The last time the word “shit” was plastered across so many Israeli newspapers, the country’s prime minister was being called a chickenshit by a White House official. This time it’s bull feces that earn the front page treatment, and papers are even more full of it than normal after Culture Minister Miri Regev called on artists to “cut the bullshit” while at a culture conference.

The conference, thrown by the daily Haaretz, likely represented the height of the kulturkampf being waged between Regev and creative types over measures that require artists to show loyalty to the state in order to receive state funding, and papers took notice.

Of course, editors’ decisions to play up the story was helped by the lack of big news on Sunday. Nor was it hurt by two scatological bookends: Regev’s sharp tongue and some drama in the form of an artist getting booed off stage and shoving a flag in his ass, both click-getters of the highest grade.

The minister’s use of “cut the bullshit” was just meant to be an opening attention-grabber and had little to do with the actual content of her speech, but it set the tone for her appearance in front of an unfriendly crowd, pictured in Israel Hayom with their mouths taped shut in symbolic protest.

“As she got on stage and said the three words ‘cut the bullshit,’ it was a declaration of war, and the crowd responded with loud calls again her,” the paper reports. “In practice, from the moment she started to speak she was interrupted by the crowd so much so that Haaretz editor Aluf Benn had to get on stage twice to calm them.”

That’s not to say Benn was exactly a fan of Regev. In a column in Haaretz which is a transcript of his speech at the conference, Benn accuses Regev and her cohorts in the government of trying to censor culture, as was done in the Israel of yore.

“In the eyes of the leadership, censoring culture is a form of ‘real regime power, not just winning elections.’ Our stance has not changed: Today we still don’t need to shut anyone up, just as we didn’t need to 50 years ago. Perhaps we were mistaken in thinking that freedom of creation and expression are moving in one direction, from closed to open – and we didn’t understand that it’s a battle that needs to be fought every day.”

Yet despite Benn’s lofty words, some at the paper do support some censorship — at least when it comes to those justifying statutory rape (which we will get to later) and shoving flags up asses.

The paper eats its own words in its coverage of the audience’s equally frosty reaction to artist Ariel Bronz, whom they censored by forcing off stage during his performance, which involved a now infamous flag, all described in less than glorious detail.

“Tzipi Shohat, Haaretz’s former theater critic, was the first to call for him to stop his show. ‘Enough,’ she called to Bronz. ‘Get off the stage.’ Crowd murmurs grew into an ecstasy of noise. Others joined the calls of protest and there were some who started to leave,” the paper reports, adding that Bronz invited audience members to the stage to dance with him, an invitation they unsurprisingly declined.

“They just wanted him to shut up. It was a sad moment. Bronz escalated and when [organizers] asked him to get off stage it turned into something personal for him. He bolstered himself and asked tech crew workers for a flag. A flag from the hall came at last, and became something associated with a specific body part and indeed Bronz shoved the flag up his behind, and with it waved to the crowd. Not especially elegant, and not a leading candidate for the Zionist artists’ prize.”

While the flag seems in the video to a plain white one, and Haaretz just calls it a “flag,” in Yedioth Ben-Dror Yemini apparently assumes it’s an Israeli flag, as do several media outlets Sunday, and on this assumption he predicates a whole column attacking Haaretz for always causing a stir with flags (remember Saeb Erekat and the missing Israeli flag at the Peace Confab in New York?) and proudly waving its hate for Israel.

“More and more support for boycotts against Israel. More and more support for the Joint (Arab) List, which denies the right of Israel to exist as the national state for the Jewish people,” he writes, describing his view of Haaretz. “More and more false claims that Israel is apartheid, fascist and racist. These are the lies that repeat themselves so much until there are some who start to believe them.”

Lies and the lying lie-detector tests that expose them, kinda

Luckily for Yemini, Israel is still the kind of place where a liar can be exposed through a simple polygraph test, despite the fact that the technology is seen by most developed countries today as about as acceptable as eugenics.

Thus the news that IDF general and Ofek Buchris, whom a complainant has accused of rape, will hook himself up to one of the machines to prove his innocence makes big news in the press.

Israel Hayom reports that the test will “weigh heavily on the IDF brass’s decision whether to extend his suspension.”

Yedioth also calls the test “fateful” in determining the future course of the probe into the complaints against Buchris, but also notes that the test won’t make or break the case.

“Investigators are still waiting for more testimony which will implicate or clear Buchris,” the paper’s Yossi Yehoshua reports, citing the precedent of a case of another senior official implicated by incriminating phone calls. “Evidence like that, if it exists, could help investigators and the public in their search for the truth and to support one side in the war of versions.”

Yehoshua goes on to yet again detail all the ways Buchris is a great guy, but he doesn’t go so far as to defend the acts Buchris is accused of doing. If anybody might take on that task, it would be Haaretz’s Benny Ziffer, who last week penned a column defending statutory rape by artists against young girls as essential for them to create their art.

Spotting the easy target, Haaretz’s Aeyal Gross takes aim in the paper’s op-ed page with a blistering broadside against Ziffer’s uber ill-conceived argument and also against his own employers for running it, bringing us full circle back to bullshit, violations of body parts and censorship.

“As a newspaper writer and someone who sometimes expresses opinions outside the consensus, I have no interest in censoring writers. That being said, I would hope, for instance, that Haaretz would not publish a column that expresses explicit racism,” he writes. “Thus, why is there room in the paper for a column that justifies harming women and is therefore part of a sexist system of making women inferior and allowing the justification of assault against them? Just as racism is not considered a legitimate stance, shouldn’t we also see justification of assaulting women as crossing a red line? Even if the column represented only the writer’s opinion, this… is more than the newsprint of Haaretz should be prepared to tolerate.”

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