Israel’s Authentic Diversity
This past month saw an elegant Miss Israel, Yityish ‘Titi’ Aynaw (the first Ethiopian Israeli to hold the title) in photo ops with President Obama. Standing at 5’11 ” (not counting her 5″ heels), she was referred to by President Shimon Peres of Israel as “our modern Queen of Sheba.”
Then this week, an Israeli Arab, Lina Makhoul won Israel’s version of “The Voice” by singing a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Lina, who had been studying at Israel’s Technion Institute, is from Acre in northern Israel and born to Christian parents.
And while red equality logos filled the social media landscape in the last few days, due to two historic decisions regarding gay marriage in The U.S. Supreme Court, the rainbow flag of colors symbolizing gay pride has been present in Israel for years. Gay rights are protected by law in Israel with same-sex couples permitted to adopt and gays can serve openly in the military.
Moreover, when it comes to women’s rights, it was just three years after declaring statehood in 1948, that Israel passed legislation guaranteeing women the right to live in dignity, including providing equality in work, education, health and social welfare. Women in Israel are CEOs, Air Force pilots and serve in the Knesset.
Culturally, Israel resembles the famous United Colors of Benetton ads that began in the 80s showing children and teens of every race and creed smiling together.
Yet there’s an important and distinct difference.
You see, for years Benetton has been known for advertisements that exploit social causes in order to sell clothing. They’ve used everything from a dying AIDS patient, to the more recent “Unhate” campaign showing world leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI kissing a top Egyptian imam on the lips.
The problem with their approach is that advertising is too flimsy of a medium to support such big themes and social causes. Ultimately, because Benetton’s primary purpose is selling shirts and pants, to hang and pedal a pedestrian sales act with an advertising hook meant to change the world comes of as disingenuous.
But, what we’re witnessing with Israel is genuine, authentic and rooted in their soil. Unlike Benetton, Israel’s fabric of racial colors is the real thing. Yes of course, Israel’s not without a wrinkle when it comes to every social issue under the hot sun of media scrutiny.
But when so much of the soul searching and socio-political scrutiny is self-reflected right out of the Israeli media, the authenticity inherent in that act, says more than any ad ever could.