The New Israeli Machismo

Israeli masculinity has transformed from the ghetto-like Jew typified by the exile mentality into a brave new variety, writes Bili Moskuna-Lerman. And the outcome  has been an aggressive, offensive character. 

A number of women gathered recently in the foyer of an Israeli theater during intermission and one of them, an Anglo-Saxon lady who had moved to Israel a year ago, said that if she were to enter into a relationship with an Israeli man, it would have to be a man of faith. "What d'you mean 'a man of faith'? Have you become religious all of a sudden?" one of the others wondered, knowing that her interlocutor was a non-believer, a definitely secular person. "It's only so that he is aware that there is someone above him," the newly arrived Anglo-Saxon lady replied.

The very same issue is succinctly, lucidly and most accurately formulated by multi-talented [Israeli script writer and actor] Dana Modan in Ananda, a TV drama series that she has written and stars in. Ananda has an underlying political agenda masked in the disguise of nihilism, relayed through the depiction of a carefree, casual life taking place in a far-off location, in comparison to which Israel and life in Israel appear to be a turbulent volcano, tense and violent ad absurdum.

Along the life journey portrayed in Ananda, through a seemingly endless string of as if haphazard situations, Modan presents her Israeli spouse: A young man representing a personality archetype, the quintessential Israeli macho. Anyone who has had the dubious pleasure of encountering this all-too-familiar type on the road or waiting in line at the post office can guess at any moment, watching the TV series, what his next reply is going to be, and laugh or rather cry — most of the time, laugh. This, thanks to the hilarious bittersweet humor Modan uses to illustrate the fate of a woman who shares her life with this sort of machismo. It is the white male we all know here in Israel — one who did his military service in one of those special elite units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a student or graduate of one of the prestigious law faculties or business administration schools, a true blue-blooded god-like character. And it is this manly character that Modan points the flashlight on, tearing him to pieces — the metaphoric pieces of his behavior, exposing his callousness, roughness, ignorance, tough military posture, feeling of superiority, depreciating attitude, male chauvinism and utter blindness to any behavior that reflects some subtle cultural nuance, of the kind that considers the other as an equal — any other, be it a woman, an Arab, a religious person or a Sephardic Jew [of Middle Eastern origin].

And it is this all-Israeli man that she chooses to ditch and replace with another. The way she did it in [another romantic TV drama she co-authored and starred in] Love Hurts with the Sephardic garage worker, she is doing in Ananda with the Arab figure. He is just a simple Arab. Far from being a hero. Somewhat hunched, rather skinny, certainly not the tough brawny type of guy, merely a small-time thief. However, says Dana Modan, he wins my heart and I would rather take him than settle for the sturdy, virile, heroic, omnipotent ex-elite unit fighter.

The character of this young Israeli man in Ananda  — the type that looks down on his fellowmen, who believes that he is better than anyone else, whose manner of speaking is habitually derogatory, whose every utterance reflects his aggressiveness, belligerence, arrogance and rudeness — corresponds with the brutal beating of innocent young persons three weeks ago, people who did nothing wrong, apart from just standing on Rothschild Boulevard [in central Tel Aviv, Friday, June 22] with some flags and a tent, in an attempt to deliver the message: "We cannot make ends meet." They were responded to by brutality verging on hatred. Nothing can explain the situation where people are strangled, kicked, trampled and savagely attacked, the way it happened at that demonstration, unless we assume that they are regarded with a sense of hostility as "quintessential Other."

A National Calamity

In an article published under the heading: "Baghdad, Congo, Tel Aviv – a phone call at 1am in the morning: your brother has been beaten up'', Israeli journalist Itai Anghel, who knows a thing or two about brutality, describes how his brother was brutally beaten up at the demonstration held a couple of weeks ago [Saturday night, June 23] at Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. And why was he beaten so savagely? Well, he just happened to pass by, on the other side of the street, when he saw two policemen dragging a young woman along the street, hitting her. He shouted at one of them: "What kind of a man are you, beating up a woman?! You should be ashamed of yourself!" In response, the policemen left the young woman, ran over to him and [joined by several of their friends] brutally attacked my brother, sadistically beating him, kicking him all over, dragging and pounding him, and then put him in handcuffs. Later that night, they realized that he had actually done nothing wrong and released him, but it was too late. He emerged from the incident with broken limbs and hemorrhages, and he is crushed both physically and mentally.

Whoever has not read yet the letter written by the father of Daphne Leef [leader of the social justice movement who was dragged and beaten brutally by police during a demonstration last month] to his daughter after seeing her beaten and battered [by the police], should read it now. Whoever has not read the letter written by a diabetic girl detained at that same demonstration, locked up in a bank backroom and then moved to the police detention house, where she was denied water and medication, this, after being forced to stand for hours under the scorching sun, humiliated by the policemen, who refused to let her use her mobile phone to call her parents or a lawyer, should read the letter.

What has happened to us along the way, on the military-police continuum, since the days of "Elik who rose from the sea", the world-acclaimed native Israeli ("sabra") fighter [the mythological hero of Israeli author Moshe Shamir's epic With His Own Hands: Elik's Story] to the present-day aggressive combatant of the Israel Police Special Patrol Unit ("Yasam")? This contemporary policeman who exerts brute physical force against young demonstrators, settlers, Palestinian children throwing rocks, pregnant women waiting at road blocks, Arab men waiting for hours on end in the heat?

What is happening to us is precisely what [the late] Yeshayahu Leibowitz [Israeli intellectual known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics, who warned of moral decline, should Israel hold on to the occupied territories] predicted. The accounts given by Palestinian inhabitants of the territories on the violence they are exposed to and the texts communicated by the social justice protestors have become one and the same. What has been happening for years in the territories and at the road blocks, far away from our eyes, has seeped into Rabin Square. The sword is forever a two-edged sword. And although [Tel Aviv mayor] Ron Huldai has realized that he is undermining his position with his very own hands and hurried to apologize and to issue unequivocal orders instructing the policemen to do their job as the guardians of law and order — not as savage animals terrorizing helpless victims – the chasm has been opened up, even if briefly. And as Itai Anghel puts it, in his own words: "The comparison between" Rothschild Boulevard and Tahrir Square "is no less than perversion, but when the police lie, use disproportional force, and enjoy complete backing from elected officials, the gap narrows."

There is a Partner

Dr. Erela Shadmi, a retired senior police officer, has recently released her book The Fortified Land, where she explains that "the policing and security spaces have been expanded in the past decades to manage the implications of the neo-liberal policy, so as to model them as protected spaces for the upper middle class, in order to maintain free consumption, shopping and tourism." In other words, the Israel Police has become the security arm of aggressive policing that defines undesirable populations as criminal and brutally drives them away from the public space – the homeless, women engaged in prostitution, drug addicts, young social justice demonstrators – they are all defined as a "strategic threat," Dr. Shadmi says. And this "threat" is ruthlessly suppressed by the Israel Police Special Patrol Unit ("Yasam") and the Israel Border Police ("Magav"). And the aggression and militarism of the police – which is gradually assuming the role of the government's security arm, directed against the citizens – have come to replace the management of social problems, which should be dealt with by the welfare, education and health authorities.

History shows that the Zionist metamorphose has transformed the delicate, passive, scholarly, unassuming Jew typified by the exile mentality into an aggressive man, a powerful, fierce fighter, conqueror and victor. The coveted ideal of "muscular Judaism" was at the base of the Zionist settlement in the Land of Israel, conceived as a masculine, mighty, heroic, vanquishing and victorious national project. On the way, all other options have been discarded — first and foremost, that of the dialogue.

"There is no partner [for dialogue]," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced at the time, addressing the Israeli public with a wink, spitting over the heads of the Palestinians. And here comes Dana Modan, the Lysistrata from Tel Aviv, who understands perfectly well that he who uses the Holocaust or Iran to scare us is the very same man who is making a nice profit off his panicky statements, lavishly living in the [prestigious] Akirov Towers [in central Tel Aviv, where Barak used to live] or having his home in Kfar Shmaryahu [highest upper class suburb, where Barak built a villa], and tells Ehud Barak and the like of him: Gentlemen, you are mistaken! We have a great partner here, and it is with him that I elect to carry on the way.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:

  • The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
  • מאמרים בארכיון
  • אירועים מיוחדים
  • The Week in Review
  • ניוזלטר שבועי על פעילות הלובי המזרח תיכוני בוואשינגטון
נמצא ב: soldiers, social justice, police, manhood, macho, diaspora, demonstrations, yeshayahu leibowitz, itai anghel, israel, idf, dr. shadmi, daphne leef, ''ananda''

The website uses cookies and similar technologies to track browsing behavior for adapting the website to the user, for delivering our services, for market research, and for advertising. Detailed information, including the right to withdraw consent, can be found in our Privacy Policy. To view our Privacy Policy in full, click here. By using our site, you agree to these terms.