I posted here yesterday the new Cellcom commercial, which I believe breaks some records in bad taste, even by Israeli standards. I would like to add now one more thought about the way this commercial represents the current moment in Israel.
I agree with Dimi Reider who writes in his blog that:
Ads aimed at the general market, like this one, are invaluable time capsules, representing public mood much more faithfully than any art. They can’t afford to affront and lose a single customer – and thus they document not just what a society really is, but what it really thinks itself to be, which can be just as decisive as facts and figures.
This goes even further: this commercial was done by McCann Erickson Israel, the largest advertising company in Israel, for what is probably their biggest client – Cellcom, Israel’s leading cell phone provider. So one can assume that many people were involved in writing and approving the commercial, including McCann Erickson’s top directors and managers. In that sense, the commercial is no “mistake” by some low level copywriter.
Now, I would like to offer an assumption: I bet the people who wrote this commercial are not right-wing people (it is not such a radical though – according to the socio-economical profile of the people in the advertising business, they are likely to be voting for Kadima, Labor and even Meretz). What I mean is that although some people in Israel find this commercial to be in bad taste, even offending, the Israeli mainstream sees nothing wrong with it – in fact, some comments on the internet even regarded it as one that advocates peace, since instead of fighting, the soldiers and the (unseen) Palestinians are having fun playing soccer.
The fact that the Palestinians are invisible in this commercial, that the wall the soldiers are playing around was built on their lands – and that Palestinians are killed while protesting against it – the fact that in reality, if a Palestinian comes close to the fence to return a football or to wave a flag he is likely to get shot; the whole reality of the occupation, is something Israelis are refusing to see. Like the voice over at the end of the commercial says (“What do we all want? Some fun, that’s all”), we see ourselves as your usual happy-and-fun-loving-Mediterranean-nation, only in uniform.
Israelis can be liberal or conservative, religious or secular, left wing or right wing people, but as a whole, the vast majority of them are totally absorbed in their own pain, and don’t care at all about the Palestinians – even though the reality of Palestinian and Israeli life is unseparable, and has been so since the dawn of Zionism.
A well informed person in Europe or the US knows more about what’s happening in Ramallah or Hebron than your average Israeli, living only 30 minutes drive (if you can pass the roadblocks) from these towns. You can’t even blame the Israelis: In most Israeli papers and news stations, stories about the Palestinians are considered boring, practically a none-issue. You can see more of them on a European Channel than on Israeli TV. The current trend in the debate is refusing to use the word “occupation” – which is considered a radical lefty term – and even denying the very existence of a Palestinian people, as if we could only prove that they are not a nation, we wouldn’t be forced to give them individual rights. Israelis are living in a world of constant Cognitive Dissonance, in which it is possible to speak about our forever-united-Jerusalem, while in fact the city is already divided into two by a wall more than twice higher than the Berlin Wall.
I should also add that this view is shared by Israel’s supporters around the world, and especially in the US. Occasionally I get to read the meta-blog “Jewlicious”. Most bloggers there, I gather, consider themselves Obama supporters, and even Liberals. But when it comes to Israel, things change. Here, they can write a post which makes fan of Palestinians’ life under the siege in Gaza, and never understand the problem with it.
That’s why discussing these issues with Israelis and their supporters has become so difficult, even frustrating. What exactly can you say to the advertising person who made the Cellcom commercial? How can you begin describing the situation, when even words like “occupation” and “Palestinians” are considered politically biased? Israelis have convinced themselves that (a) the situation is not their fault, and (b) that the whole world is against them. And if this is the case, they conclude they can do whatever they want, and dismiss any criticism as your typical anti-Semitism.
I’ve discussed here before the question of Apartheid. I often wandered what did the people of South Africa think about their country. Did they went on seeing it as a democracy, even when the rest of the world cut all connections with them? How could they explain to themselves this difference in perception? Well, I think I’m beginning to understand. You create your own image of yourself, and than you build a wall around you. After that, nothing prevents you from viewing your soldiers as fun loving people – instead of asking yourself what is it exactly that are they doing there – and your army patrol as a Rio de Janeiro style celebration.