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Empowering Israelis to Express Themselves

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Imagine if 100 million Americans participated in the Tea Party movement. And then imagine that the movement had no impact on American politics. Finally imagine that in the wake of the Tea Party movement, Republicans embraced President Barack Obama's positions on spending and taxation.

These scenarios are of course, unimaginable. Anywhere from a million to ten million people participated in Tea Party protests in the US over the past year. That is, perhaps three percent of Americans.

Yet this was sufficient for the citizens' movement calling for fiscal restraint, spending and tax cuts to have a defining impact on the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. The Republican establishment is being challenged and in many cases unseated by Tea Party politicians.

Owing in large part to the Tea Party movement, just two years after Obama was elected president the American political map has been transformed. The American people are abandoning leftist socialist domestic policy formulations in favor of supply side Reaganomics.

Now look at Israel. 17 years ago, the Rabin government adopted the radical and failed policy of appeasing the PLO. Since then, around two million -- or approximately 30 percent of Israelis have participated in protests against this policy. In four of the six elections since then, the Right has won by pledging to abandon this policy. And in one of the two elections won by the Left, the Left (under Ehud Barak in 1999), won by running on a rightist platform.

The resistance Israelis have demonstrated to the government's policies towards the Palestinians is arguably unprecedented in modern history. And yet, the unimaginable scenarios for the Tea Party movement in the US have been the glum reality in Israel for 17 years.

Presently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is implementing the Left's appeasement policy towards the Palestinians with as much enthusiasm as Shimon Peres before him. Last Monday Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's most trusted adviser, told Politico that a leader is defined by the contempt he feels for his voters. As Dermer put it, "The test of leadership is doing things that are not popular with your base."

There are many explanations for what is going on. The most cited are Israel's indirect elections system in which leaders are unaccountable to voters, the weakness of Israel's politicians, and the poor quality of their advisors.

While all are true, another explanation is more compelling. In Israel the Left exerts almost complete control over the political and social discourse. Unlike the situation in the US - particularly in the era of Fox News - there are no significant communications outlets in Israel that are not controlled by the Left.

Even Yisrael Hayom, the free newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson that has eroded the market shares of Israel's leading tabloids, is not a rightist newspaper. It senior editors, reporters and commentators are almost all leftists.

The Left's monopoly over the public discourse is not only expressed in the media. In the worlds of culture, academia and entertainment as well, all the leading figures are leftists. They cultivate one another in an elite universe that is affected neither by reality nor by the convictions of most of their countrymen.

This has led to a situation in which a small minority of Israelis behaves as if it were a large majority. They use their control over the public discourse to present the sentiments of the majority of Israelis as if they were the views of a small, fanatical minority.

This distorted presentation of the convictions of most Israelis has induced a number of pathologies within Israeli society. Most pertinently, it has caused leaders of the Right to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to win the support of the Left that despises them. And as Dermer made clear it motivates men like Netanyahu and former prime minister Ariel Sharon to betray their voters in favor of the leftist agenda they were elected to reject.

In a bid to begin contending with this dismal reality, in early 2009 I launched a Hebrew-language media satire website called Latma. Latma is an Arabic term for "slap" that has been adopted in Israeli slang.

Latma combines short, pithy blog posts ridiculing the daily media coverage of events with a weekly television show on Internet called The Tribal Update. The show parodies the broadcast media in Israel while exposing the absurdity of the leftist political and cultural narratives they trumpet.

The insight guiding Latma is that people do not fear what they laugh at. By exposing the failure of Israel's cultural elites in a humorous way, Latma empowers the majority of Israelis to express their views without fearing leftist demonization.

While Latma is only one small voice, entirely funded by charitable donations, its impact has been enormous. It is one of the most visited websites in Israel today with close to a million page views per month. Our broadcasts are eagerly awaited by tens of thousands of Israelis. Week after week, our shows become viral within hours after we post them on YouTube.

Our work is doing more than making the case for strong Zionism. It is undermining leftist stereotypes about the nature of the Israeli Right and making it cool to be Zionist again.

Latma's greatest international success to date was our clip "We Con the World," which we produced three days after the IDF takeover of the Turkish-Hamas terror ship Mavi Marmara. We Con the World was seen by more than a million viewers in a week and has been viewed over five million times since we produced it. The song changed the tone of the media coverage of the operation. Perhaps most importantly, it empowered Israel's supporters to stand up to anti-Zionist intimidation throughout the world.

Building on that success, and subsequent successes with English language clips like "The Three Terrors," and "The Iranian Bomb Song," we are recruiting a team of English-language satirists to produce clips directed at the international audience on a regular basis.

Liberal media outlets and other cultural institutions in the US went to enormous lengths to belittle and demonize the Tea Party movement. They failed because over the past generation, American conservatives have developed alternative media outlets and cultural institutions that the general public and politicians alike pay attention to.

I believe that Latma's success must serve as a springboard for cultivating an alternative elite in Israel whose members reflect rather than demonize the convictions of the majority of Israelis.

Given the massive dimensions of the public's rejection of the Left's worldview, if these alternative media outlets and cultural bodies are properly conceived and managed, I am certain that like Latma, they will not only be rapidly successful. They will have a profound and salutary impact on the behavior of Israel's political leaders who will finally recognize that for embattled Israel, the true test of leadership is standing up to a hostile world and keeping faith with the Israeli people.

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