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June 2, 2017 11:46 am

Questions of Societal Cluelessness

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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The Israeli city of Netanya. Photo: James Emery via Wikimedia Commons.

This week, I was contacted by a young woman conducting background research for an Israeli documentary on the socio-political fabric of the country.

“We are seeking average Israelis of all stripes and sectors for the program,” she said, asking me if it is true, as she had been told by the person who gave her my phone number, that I am a right-winger. The delicate way in which she broached the subject — as though careful not to cause offense — made me giggle.

“Yes,” I answered, stifling a full-blown laugh. After all, she was merely performing a task she had been assigned.

“I mean, like, really? You’re actually on the Right? I just have to know, so I can chat with you to find out whether you’re appropriate for the program,” she said, revealing she had never heard of me and had not thought to do a Google search before calling.

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I replied again in the affirmative, adding that I am secular rather than religious.

“Even better for our purposes,” she said, noting my supposedly sui generis status with satisfaction.

This is not the first time that I have been approached by media outlets to fill the “conservative woman” slot. Nor is it unusual for millennials in journalism to ask me to explain who I am and what I think, rather than doing a bit of investigating on their own.

This particular “interview,” however, was noteworthy, because it gave me an additional glimpse into the secluded intellectual and cultural castle that many Israelis inhabit without even realizing it, let alone venturing beyond its carefully constructed moat. The woman with whom I spoke — let’s call her Maya — is such a person. Like an anthropologist studying a primitive tribe member considered dangerous by the rest of the civilized world, she advanced with caution.

“How do Israelis view right-wingers?” Maya began, apparently unaware that a majority of the country keeps electing what the Left refers to as a “far-right” government. “How are you different from left-wingers?”

She continued: “Is there any left-wing position that you would be willing to consider as valid? Have you ever attempted to look at the world through left-wing eyes?”

I could hear Maya jotting down fragments of my replies, mostly without rebutting them. After about 15 minutes, however, she was unable to refrain from protesting the positions she had requested I articulate. Key among these were my assertion that political conservatives tend to oppose big government, high taxes and the notion that the West is responsible for Islamist terrorism, while championing individual liberty and a free-market economy.

Maya was stunned. It clearly had not occurred to her that she was in favor of interference from the government, particularly not one headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor would she ever have said she was happy to take home only half of every shekel she earns to fund such a government’s activities and priorities. Above all, she was certain that only the Left cared about individual liberty, which is why she practically gasped when I referred her to the gay caucus of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

But it was my description of the right-wing view of free speech that seemed to surprise if not disconcert her the most. Using Culture Minister Miri Regev’s pronouncements about withdrawing government funding from certain plays — either for their content or for their creators’ refusal to perform in Judea and Samaria — I explained that people like me believe in the right of all citizens to express themselves as they please (with the exception of support for or incitement to violence); we just don’t think this presupposes financing anything and everything with our hard-earned money.

“So you’re saying that the Right doesn’t really support freedom of speech,” Maya concluded.

“On the contrary,” I said, to no avail.

Before wrapping up our chat, Maya suddenly discovered she had neglected to ask a key question on her list: whether I think the Right is more Zionist than the Left. Oy.

My long answer, which involved an overview of the decades since Israel’s establishment — and the way even the definition of Zionism has evolved — led to my short answer.

“Yes,” I said.

Maya thanked me profusely for my “interesting perspective,” which she seemed to consider an oddity or an aberration, rather than a perfectly common, mainstream point of view. It is this aspect of Israeli society — the ability of a small yet prominent segment of the Jewish state to be ignorant of and baffled by the mind frame of the far less visible masses — that would make for a good documentary. Alas, most of the country’s filmmakers are afflicted with precisely this kind of societal cluelessness.

Ruthie Blum is an editor at the Gatestone Institute.

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