Collins Dictionary defines “absurd” as something that is so “clearly untrue or unreasonable as to be laughable or ridiculous.”
When we have enemies – serious enemies – who have no shame about their wishes, for example, to extinguish the Jewish state which implies murdering those who won’t move away in time, it is time to call out their positions or arguments as not just untrue or unreasonable but also as ridiculous – which means that they should be ridiculed.
For many years, western culture has made use of satire to undermine the power of elites in our culture. Satire and ridicule, however, are only used in free societies; in totalitarian illiberal societies, satire is so offensive that it is often censored.
As the woke and intersectional West moves away from traditional freedoms and towards cancel culture and enforcement of cultural and moral relativism, we are seeing a decline in satire. I suggest one way of determining the freedom of a culture is to see how much satire is tolerated and encouraged – as opposed to those who claim to be offended by every element of satire.
I suggest also that satire is more alive and healthy in Israel than in the United States and there is a lesson in that for Americans.
We note that there is little satire of President Biden compared to President Trump. So, are Israelis more open to satire, even in its most difficult times than Americans?
We also need to look at whether satire is applied only to domestic politics and culture or whether the satirists are confident enough to target international events and persons. Finding humour internationally requires a maturity of one’s own values and understanding of culture to allow one the requisite distance to understand the absurdity of any given situation.
The ill-educated university students in America and elsewhere, marching in the streets, screaming for the murder of Jews and blocking bridges and writing hate graffiti, have little understanding of our traditional culture and little education about freedom and justice. Their antisemitic chants are absurd and we should gather thousands of counter-protestors to laugh out loud at them.
Steve Apfei, who sometimes writes for INN has reminded us in a piece in his Substack newsletter of the absurdity of the proceedings at the Hague against Israel, supposedly for genocide. He quotes Sartre: “The anti-Semite chooses to devaluate words and reason. His remarks are absurd: He is aware of the absurdity and knows that he is being frivolous. But the anti-Semite amuses himself, for his adversary has to counter him by using words responsibly. By making ridiculous remarks he tries to discredit the seriousness of his adversary. (my emphasis) The anti-Semite also delights in acting in bad faith, seeking not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.”
Apfel concludes: “Let Israel beware: the wilder the charges, the greater the tactical advantage for drooling anti-Semites gathered for a hate fest at The Hague.” Since these anti-Semites do not listen to reasoned arguments, it is just as well to laugh at them to make it clear we only see them as absurd; we choose not to counter frivolity with reason but with laughter and disdain to show how absurd they are. Our disdain must extend to the media that act as shills for such people.
Let us examine how Israel has utilized satire, even in times of distress.
In Israel, since its launch in 2002, television show Eretz Nehederet, which means “A Wonderful Country,” has become one of Israel’s most influential shows with parodies of current affairs and people. While it does not distribute the satire fairly, ridiculing the right and seldom the left, it has come through in this war.
In a story in Politico, script-writer Itai Reicher said that October 7 “changed everything,” … “One of the producers texted me saying, ‘Nothing will ever be funny again.’”
However, after a short pause, Eretz Nehederet was back and ready to ridicule the slanted Western news coverage. The BBC was made fun of for automatically assuming Israel was behind the deadly explosion in October at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, and exaggerating the deaths when the cause was likely a rocket misfired from inside Gaza, which landed not on the building but on an adjacent parking lot. The media immediately reported the Gaza Health Ministry (run by Hamas) claim that the death toll was nearly 500 when the best unbiased estimates suggest it was about 100 to 200..
An Eretz Nehederet sketch that’s gone viral globally mocks a BBC news anchor for arbitrarily raising the number of casualties from the hospital blast. It also names a Middle East correspondent, “Harry Whiteguilt”, who is said to be reporting from the “illegal colony” of Tel Aviv.
Whiteguilt disappoints the anchor by saying Hamas has admitted it was responsible for the blast, but in the face of that fact all the news anchor can say is; “Well, I guess we’ll never know what happened.” Later, the anchor and Whiteguilt concur that Israel is still at fault because its economic blockade on the coastal enclave has meant Palestinian Arab factions were unable to obtain the quality parts to manufacture accurate rockets.
Eretz Nehederet has ridiculed Yahya Sinwar complaining that a kidnapped Israeli baby is keeping him up at night. It has laughted at the American university students who march in favour of Palestinian Arab murders of Jews, and surely ridicule is what these young Islamists and other “useful idiots” deserve. Taking these people seriously seems to give them an undeserved legitimacy whereas ridicule is more appropriate. Their signs and chants are dangerous, but they are also absurd, and treating them as such, might yield better results in terms of Israeli hasbara.
Is humour inappropriate in the face of such a tragedy as October 7th? Perhaps only if it is confined to making fun of Israeli leaders. And so, in one episode Prime Minister Netanyahu is visited by the ghost of former prime minister Golda Meir who thanks him for the intelligence failure surrounding the Hamas attack. She says his blunder will enhance her legacy by eclipsing her government’s failure when Israel was caught off guard by Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Her character says: “Finally, after 50 years,my failures aren’t the biggest in history.”
Certainly after so many deaths of our soldiers and so many injuries, finding humour in this will not be appreciated by many Israelis, And so I suggest that for people who feel strong enough to participate in showing absurdity as one weapon of the resilient nation, they should watch the show, and others should stay away.
Israeli-born therapist Rachel Biale sees Israeli humor as a reflection of the realities of daily life, and the essential nature of Israelis. In an article about Israeli humour in Jewish News of Northern California she states:
“The people live in dire situations where they feel there’s a threat to their safety,..One coping mechanism is humor. Israeli style in general is to confront things head on. Black humor is more in line with that than escapism. Awful incidents become the subject of humor.”
In an article of the Los Angeles Times, Muli Segev of Eretz Nehederet noted: “Life here is very intense, more so than other places. And it requires stronger humor to achieve relief and deal with the stress of life. It follows that the Israeli stomach is less sensitive to satirical humor and the slaughtering of sacred cows.
“This is a healthy sign. When societies live in a perpetual state of emergency, this often leads to uniformity of thought, monolithic thinking, even totalitarianism. Here, democracy flourishes — perhaps even in excess — and satire has no limits. You can say everything, and in prime time.”
We say that laughter is the best medicine; that saying may come from Proverbs 17:22 which says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
If we bear in mind that some joy in our hearts can ease our pain in this war and that the best medicine is laughter based on ridicule of the anti-Semites, and we can laugh at ourselves rather than fight about judicial reform, then we should be all right.
©2024. Howard Rotberg. All rights reserved.
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