Happy New Year! Here in Israel people celebrate it, but not like they do elsewhere in the world. Israelis like any opportunity to throw a party and have a good time, so December 31 – called Sylvester in Hebrew (after a pope, if you can believe it) – is a convenient time for that to happen. Israel also has the influence of immigrants from the former Soviet Republics. New Year in the Soviet Union looks like secular Christmas – decorated trees, Grandfather Frost who brings presents, and spending time with friends and family. But Noviy God is Noviy God and if you ask a person from the former Soviet Union they will absolutely insist that it has nothing to do with Christmas. Apparently this year, they went all out for Noviy God.
January 1 is not a day off. If being at the office on Christmas and dating documents 25 December is weird, being at the office and writing 1 January seems almost criminal. But there it is. New Year in Israel was in September. The first of January is just new page on the calendar.
Last night the weather was not cooperating. Torrential rain would be an understatement. The trees outside my house were nearly blowing sideways. There are rumors that there might be snow in the next few days too. And yet, I was able to hear all the revelers throughout the night. Why they would want to be out in this weather is beyond me. I quietly rang in the New Year with a toast for good health, much happiness, and great success in 2016!
Question of the week
What is the flaw in our society that ensures only outrageous campaigns get attention?
On Christmas Eve last week I went to a lecture about the influences Palestinian youth are subjected to that are likely inspiring them to attack Jews with knives. The short answer is that Palestinian society under the direction of the Palestinian Authority honors “martyrs,” creates children’s programming broadcast on state television giving praise to 5-year-olds with aspirations to use knives to kill Jews, and hammers home the message that Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes. There are literally thousands of other examples of this kind of messaging in Palestinian society.
Any person in their right mind would see these things and be horrified and call it what it is: emotional and psychological child abuse. And yet it goes on and no one talks about it. The speaker is well-informed, intellectual, and has sound, extensive documentation of every claim and the organization has the ear of members of the Israeli government and the US government, among others, and there is hardly a whisper of condemnation.
At the same time, a debate was raging in Israeli society about a “provocative” (their word) campaign done by a Zionist organization calling attention to the fact that certain NGOs in Israel are funded by foreign governments. The video is disturbing, no doubt, and they name names calling certain members of these NGOs “moles” or “foreign agents.”
The debate spread like wildfire over every media outlet. Every news program discussed the “provocative” campaign and then began to question the facts. Everyone had to have an opinion about the proposed law (to require NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to make it known and for their representatives who come to the Knesset to visibly identify themselves as members of these organizations). There were even those who agreed that one targeted organization was in fact harming Israel’s image abroad and was disingenuous about its stated goals, but still were upset by the “provocative” campaign.
The targeted organization, by the way, was not suddenly the victim of a provocative campaign. Another organization wrote a well-documented report showing that a large portion of the money this organization receives is from foreign governments, including a consortium managed in Ramallah of funds from foreign governments. That report has been out for months and I believe there was even a press release. But no one discussed it. No one thought about it. No one asked any questions.
I’m deliberately not naming organizations because the issues they raise are far bigger than a simple blog post could cover. The point of this is to ask the question: If the facts are out there, why do we need to have over-the-top, shock-and-awe campaigns to get any response from anyone? Have we really slipped into a sex-sells, if-it-bleeds-it-leads global society?
On the other hand, if we want to get anything done and “go viral” do we have to bend with the fickle winds of the internet and make every issue bigger, stronger, faster, more outrageous, more outlandish, wilder, crazier, more shocking, and push the limits beyond their stretching point? Is this what debate looks like today?
Here’s my (political) wish for 2016: At least once in 2016, let’s move toward reasoned debate using facts and speaking with our inside voices while turning our backs on the circus that media has become. Let’s lead by example. Each one of us can reward, at least once next year, calm, rational debate.