Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Israeli "Survivors" vs. U.S. Primaries

Steve Walz writes for The Jewish Press:

In order to distract themselves from the daily trials and tribulations of "surviving" Hamas & Hizbollah rocket threats, a vindictive Prime Minister, $6 a gallon gasoline, high taxes and a stifling bureaucracy, Israelis amuse themselves with various forms of prime-time entertainment, ranging from a local version of "Survivor" to the "Hillary vs. Obama" gladiator battles.

The local version of "Survivor" underscores the brutal reality of what it means to be a Jew and and an Israeli. Stubborness, rebellion and a stiff-necked disposition are on display as Israelis from all walks of life including several immigrants from the FSU (former Soviet Union) play out physical and spiritual mind games on an island chain within the territorial waters of the Dominican Republic. The Israeli version goes one step further in toying with the suffering of those who've been eliminated. Instead of sending them straight home, the "eliminated" are sent to an "island of death" where they must battle each other once more in order to stave off permanent elimination.

This is a painful exercise to watch... but if one compares the contestants reactions to what Jews have endured over the millenium, from brutal slavery in Egypt, medieval Crusades, Inquisitions, the Holocaust and enduring wars in contemporary Israel, "Survivor" becomes a metaphor for "am k'shei oref" (a stiff-necked people). For good and bad...

Which is why, so many Israelis tune into their prime-time evening news to watch in-depth coverage of the "Hillary vs. Obama" episodes. It's one long episode of "American Survivor" which is colored by race, money and vicious politics - something that Israelis actually hunger for when it comes to local politics. Israeli politicians, especially the "front-runners" (i.e. Olmert & Netanyahu) would never debate each other face-to-face in front of a national audience over a period of months. Their egos just wouldn't fit into the same room. And, their personal foibles would be exposed, which would be too much for their spinmeisters.

Israeli politics are most certainly colored by ethnicity, money and a viciousness that rivals Hillary vs. Obama. But most Israeli politicians are cowardly survivors who will manipulate in order to administrate. Most Israelis would pay to see Olmert and Netanyahu marooned on an island, just to see who could survive the longest without the trappings of physical prestige.