by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 2, 2004
The Israeli Supreme Court first introduced the tenets of political correctness into Israel Prize deliberations in 1997, when it effectively stripped Shmuel Schnitzer, long-time Maariv editor, of the Israel Prize for lifetime excellence in journalism.
Schnitzer’s crime: a 1994 column "Import of death" that members of the Ethiopian community found offensive. Schnitzer wrote in support of the public’s right to know of the high incidence of AIDs and tuberculosis among the Falashmura (a position seemingly endorsed by the Supreme Court when it dismissed a petition seeking to bar the broadcast of these facts in a television news broadcast.) Both the Navon Commission, which investigated the refusal to accept blood donations from Ethiopian immigrants, and the 1997 State Comptroller’s report sharply criticized the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Absorption for covering up information about the health crisis among the Falashmura.
Perhaps Schnitzer’s real sin was poking fun at political correctness itself. He suggested that the desire to import thousands of apostates carrying dangerous diseases stemmed from the fact that they were black, and was part of a doomed effort to demonstrate to the world that Israel is a humane, progressive country.
On the basis of that single piece, the Supreme Court deemed Schnitzer, whose journalistic career spanned 59 years and thousands of columns, unworthy of recognition.
In ordering the Israel Prize Committee to reconsider the award to Schnitzer in light of the Press Council’s censure of the article in question, the Court implicitly endorsed the Press Council’s reasoning: "Freedom of press must retreat when confronted with the sensitivities of ethnic groups."
Yet the protective umbrella of political correctness only extends to the sensitivities of some groups. Figures who have made careers of gratuitously insulting religious Jews and expressing their disdain for the Jewish religion in the most egregious fashion possible are fit recipients of the Israel Prize. Their right to free speech is treated by the Supreme Court and media as if were an affirmative entitlement to the Israel Prize.
Three years after Schnitzer was denied the Israel Prize, Shulamit Aloni received one, in part, for her efforts to foster good relations between the different "nations" in Israel. Aloni, however, never extended that desire to foster good relations to her fellow Jews. Unlike Schnitzer who took a position in a serious policy debate, Aloni delights in gratuitous insult and offense.
She has always been free with the Nazi-Jewish equation, calling then Prime Minister Netanyahu a "good student of Goebbels" and accusing religious Jews of " drink[ing] from the same wellsprings as the Nazis." She never misses a chance to poke a thumb in the eyes of religious Jews: the mezzuzot on the doors of 98% of Jewish households, are in her opinion, "idol worship:" "Joshua and Chelmenicki are equals," she proclaimed. Yet when MK Shaul Yahalom petitioned the Supreme Court against Aloni’s award, Justice Dorner refused to allow the Court to be turned "into a prize committee."
Yigal Tumarkin, like Aloni, is a lifelong enfant terrible and all-purpose hater. His contempt extends to his fellow citizens – "a mob….[of] primitives and monkeys;" the state – "Perhaps it would have been better if the state did not exist:" even children – "One thing I’ve always hated is children." He once opined that his greatest public service would be to mow down former Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan and the late Rehavam Zeevi with a submachine gun.
But, like Aloni, the favorite targets of his venom, are the religious. His religious Moroccan neighbors "descended from a nation of primitive parasites," who "were brought to Israel out of caves." To protest what he considers the land fetish of the national religious, he once brought a sculpture of a pig wearing tefillin to Rabin Square. Judaism, he once wrote in Al Hamishmar, "has completed its historical task with the crucifixion of Jesus". And, of course, the published remark for which Yad Vashem rescinded the Zussman prize: "When one sees the haredim one understands why there was a Holocaust.".
The fiftieth Independence Day fiasco at which the Batsheva Dance Troupe was invited to perform a striptease to the tune of the traditional Pesach song "Who knows one" to symbolize the casting off of religious restraint marked the beginning of a disturbing trend in Israel society. Ceremonies designed to foster national unity and celebrate common elements in our heritage have been turned into the opposite. With the award of the Israel Prize to deliberately polarizing figures such as Aloni and now Tumarkin, inciters of intracommunal strife, rather than models worthy of emulation, that dangerous trend continues.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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