You can learn a lot about a nation's health by watching how it celebrates its national holidays. In Israel's case, compare how we celebrated our 50th Independence Day in 1998 to what celebrations involve today.
During the 1990s, Israel's elite took a vacation from reality and history and they brought much of the public with them.
Then-foreign minister Shimon Peres said that history was overrated. The so-called "New Historians," who rummaged through David Ben-Gurion's closet looking for skeletons, were the toast of the academic world. Radicals like Yossi Beilin, Shulamit Aloni and Avrum Burg were dictating government policy.
The media, the entertainment establishment, and the Education Ministry embraced and massively promoted plays, movies, television shows, songs, dances, art and books that "slayed sacred cows." Everywhere you turned, post-Zionism was in. Post-Judaism was in. And Zionism and Judaism were both decidedly out.
As he is today, in 1998 Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister, and then as now there were prominent voices seeking to blame him for the absence of peace and every other terrible blight on the planet.
In 1998, the government invested a fortune in marking Israel's 50th Independence Day. The main official celebration was a massive affair called Jubilee Bells that took place at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. More than 2,000 performers participated. But rather than serve as an event that unified Israeli society in celebration of 50 years of sovereign freedom, the event exposed just how far Israel's political and cultural elite were willing to go in attacking basic societal values.
The Bat Sheva Dance Troupe was scheduled to participate in the program and present a dance set to the traditional Passover song "Ehad mi yodea," (Who knows one). The song contains 13 stanzas that praise God, praise Jewish law, and outline the Jewish life cycle. In the number Bat Sheva was scheduled to perform, the dancers come on stage dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and by the end of the song, all they are wearing is underwear.
The choreography enraged members of Netanyahu's cabinet including education minister Yitzhak Levy. They insisted that the program shouldn't contain material that insulted sectors of Israeli society. The organizers tried to forge a compromise. But the dancers chose to boycott the festival.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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