What’s Worrying Us

December 22, 2016

4 min read

Ira Sharkansky

It’s not all Arab terror, clashing demands of ultra-Orthodox and Reform Jews, concerns about what Obama might do in the coming month, Trump in the Oval Office, or barbaric Russians, Syrians, and other Muslims just over the northern border.

There’s also been an explosion of concern about women’s legs, and cartoons of the Prime Minister, at least one of which has raised concerns about another political murder and brought the police to investigate a first-year art student and her teachers.

There is also what may be a more serious wave of accusations about sexual harassment, bringing forth a special version of tongue-clucking insofar as the accused have been religious Jews of prominence.

Women’s legs became an issue when Knesset guards refused entry to a parliamentary aide whose skirt showed too much.

Ha’aretz cartoonist lampooned the guardians of Israel morality with a creation showing a guard with tape measure against a female leg, and other ladies waiting their turn to be judged.

A day later the newspaper published a series of leggy shots  taken in the Knesset, including Sara Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked..

The undisputed star of the montage was Stav Shaphir, who may rank as the most attractive and shapely of Israel’s lawmakers, posing in a way to make a feminist point about the men charged with guarding the building in which she and other women do their work.

Then came the work of a young student at the distinguished Bezalel Academy, whose offering in a first year class appeared in all the major newspapers, and produced pondering among politicians of the left and right about the borders between free expression and incitement to violence. It featured the Prime Minister with a hangman’s noose in front of his face and the word Rope, taking its inspiration from a popular poster of Barack Obama without a noose, but the word Hope..

This became part of a collage of several Netanyahus with the picture of Yitzhak Rabin and the word Traitor, which figured in the incitement that ended with his murder.

That was too much, representing a step beyond the depiction of the Prime Minister a week earlier, i.e., a gold-colored life sized statue that stood for a short time in the Rabin Square alongside the Tel Aviv city hall, until it was toppled in a videoed scene that recalled the fate of Saddam’s statue some years ago in Baghdad.

The police grilled the student who created the poster of the Prime Minister with a noose, and her teachers, but stopped short of any criminal procedures. Politicians and commentators sought to define the boundaries of artistic expression. There are laws protecting freedom and other laws imposing criminal penalties for incitement to violence, but there are no precise boundaries between them. Against the background of Rabin’s murder and the antipathy toward Netanyahu, comments approached the norm of Oliver Wendell Holmes, about crying fire in a crowded theater.

It didn’t take long for students at Bezalel to post another cartoon of the Prime Minister as naked emperor, with a noose aimed at his privates. The wording asks the Attorney General if this is okay.

Depending on perspective, it was an artful response to charges of incitement, less dangerous than its predecessor, or ample reason to punish the Academy.

Then came another Haaretz cartoon, portraying a male Knesset member who protested what he saw as an excessive dress code by removing his coat and shirt while in a public part of the building. The headline is directed to one of the prime time news anchors, who warns viewers when a sexy or bloody video is about to appear, “Difficult picture, Yonit.”

Tragedy, comedy, potential danger, justification for UN sanctions and BDS, an illustration of the commotion that occurs in this peaceful little place as opposed to the barbarism of our neighbors? Or a playful pause until the same old stuff comes back to our headlines?

Not so playful was the outing of the Jewish Home Knesset Member who had been mentioned as a sexual harasser, but with his name originally withheld.. As was widely guessed, it was an older member of the delegation, who joined a number of other prominent religious men in a similar spotlight: a member of the Gush Etzion local council, a former SHAS MK, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, and a senior officer of the IDF. The soldier’s earlier Clinton-like claim (“I did not have sex with those women”) unraveled on the way to his resignation from the IDF and acceptance of a plea bargain less than the allegations of rape.

The outed MK of Jewish Home claimed full innocence; that he was a warm person who often hugged and touched elbows, but never with sexual intentions.

So far eight women have complained that they perceived sex in what the man said was his warmth.

He’s resigned the chair of a key Knesset committee. If patterns repeat, we’ll hear about more women. Then an escalation of responses from the police and party colleagues.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post

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