There's a Youtube video advertising the state of Israel making the rounds in North American Jewish communities that has caused, for some, a huge stir of outrage. I'm not going to post a link to the video because, based on what I've been told (and everyone's account is the same), I don't feel that I should be advertising it directly or participating in increasing its view count.
In brief, the video portrays two young people in bed. The girl looks down at the guy's genitals and comments on their diminutive size. The guy counters that it's not size but power and boy, is it powerful! Apparently at some point the sheet pulls away to reveal a map of Israel.
The rav in my shul went bananas over this video on Shabbos. Although he is renowned for his calm nature (it took me four years of goading to get him to yell at me, no he doesn't know it was a contest between me and a friend to see who could do it first!) he apparently shouted fire and brimstones to the congregation (I wasn't there, I haven't heard a sermon of his in... how many years has he been in town now?) about the video. He went on and on about how using sex and related innuendo to sell Israel to people is degrading and shows that we really don't understand our mission as Jews, and so on.
At kiddush, everyone was talking about the video and the sermon. The best line was "It was awful, totally lacking taste. It was so unbelievable I had to watch it three times to completely understand how bad it is!"
Today I got two e-mails from members of my shul imploring me to protest to the local Jewish Federation at how terrible it is to use this video to promote our land, especially because of the proximity of Israel Apartheid Week at all the local universities.
But try as I might, I can't see the reason for the outrage. As I wrote to one of the concerned congregants:
First of all, it was clearly
not meant to be marketed to the religious crowd. Frankly, if it's the same kind of people
doing this as what run our JCC, I don't think they even know a religious crowd exists or
are peripherally annoyed by our existence at best.
In the non-religious Jewish community, like the surrounding secular culture, sex sells.
Sexual jokes are considered humorous. Sexual objects are considered attractive. We may
be disgusted by such animalistic behaviour but that disgust doesn't change the
perceptions of the non-religious crowd. As a result, a video using a man's penis size
and sexual innuendo around it is no different that an ad using a scantily clad woman on a
magazine cover. It's all about what gets attention and in non-religious Jewish morality,
there's nothing wrong about it at all.
For non-religious Jews, Israel Apartheid Week, like the Holocaust, is very nerve
wracking. Having built a whole culture around fitting in and trying to be
indistinguishable from the surrounding population, they are thrown into great fits of
discomfort whenever someone points out that they are still targets of hatred for their
minimalistic beliefs. The same people who have no problem with this video, who spend
their Saturdays at the mall and bring magazines to read to pass the time in shul on Yom
Kippur suddenly feel threatened when their right to support Israel, possibly their only
connection to real Judaism, is attacked.
For religious Jews, however, IAW is no big deal. Aware as we are of history, this is
just another step along the lines of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Pact of Omar, the
pogroms of Eastern Europe and the blood libel. In fact, IAW is a pretty good thing
because at least they're not spilling into the streets and looking to burn our homes down
after their meetings. That's progress!
In response to a point he tried to make about the need to portray the State of Israel in a morally upright fashion, I rebutted:
Are you going to call Tel Aviv's city hall and demand they not host the next
international Gay Pride parade? Are you going to demand that they send all the Russian
prostitutes walking the boardwalk on the TA beach back up the Volga?
Yet the actual message: Jews are what they are by virtue of the Torah and only through
its proper observance can we elevate ourselves and show real pride in our nationhood -
must remain unsaid because it will alienate all the non-religious who, by the way, don't
have a problem with this video in the first place!
One reaps what one sows. If one feels that it is important to have Israel exist as a modern, inclusive and liberal democracy, then one must expect that its culture will be as degraded and amoral and any other Western country's. Turning around and saying "Well, yeah but since it's Jewish it should be better than that" cannot be reconciled with that. As a people we have prayed for the rebirth of a Jewish state, not a state that happens to have a Jewish majority. As alienating as it may be to the non-religious portion of our community, that doesn't imply an inclusive, liberal state. Eventually they will have to make a choice and it's not going to be pretty but shouting about videos like this just emphasizes the confusion they are currently feeling.