Empowering Israelis to express themselves

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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.


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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.


Originally published in The Jewish Press.


Latma is funded through contributions to the Center for Security Policy in Washington. If you would like to support our efforts, you can contribute by clicking here. It takes you to the online contribution page to the Center for Security Policy through Network for Good. To earmark your donation to Latma, please write “Latma” in the box marked “designation.” 


Unfortunately, for now, we can only accept donations from donors in the US. We are currently establishing an Israeli non-profit through which we will be able to accept donations from other countries.

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  • Amy 12/03/2010 at 14:33

    1) A BIG THANKS to you Caroline and the whole staff at LATMA. The idea of ridiculing the enemy instead of being intimidated by it was brilliant.
    2) A key sentence on your column: Our work “is undermining leftist stereotypes about the nature of the Israeli Right and making it cool to be Zionist again.”
    There is a fact of nature that Israelis haven’t paid attention to: new generations tend to rebel against their parents’ ideas.
    The left, with its track record of TREASON, cowardice, and elitism should repel youngsters filled with idealism.
    Nationalists must present an attractive alternative to youth naturally predisposed to rebel against parents and educators. Zionism is cool. Patriotism is cool. Self-hate is not.
    3) You are fighting a losing battle unless you take back your educational institutions. The country should not allow treasonous and toxic academics to continue to poison the mind of youngsters, filling them with contempt for their Jewishness, and hopelessness about Israel.
    There are many ways to do that. For starters, recruit an army of “observers” (young and mature) to register and then expose academics’ indoctrination in all their rotten details. Look for all avenues to end tenure for the worst offenders, and a strict set of standards for the rest. If there is too much resistance, some universities should be starved for funds and meticulously scrutinized. Make their lives hell.

  • Amy 12/03/2010 at 15:16

    Regarding the conduct of politicians once they get into office, I think that there is something much DARKER going on than just the hypnotic effect of the leftist media or the inadequate electoral system. Without getting too specific, I think that Zionists should explore strategies to fight back – or get around – certain influences on your political class.
    The greatest threat to Israel that is still in the country’s power to stop is SELF-INFLICTED PARTITION. It has been hanging over Israel since Oslo. Isn’t it rather strange how the Israeli leaderSHEEP has been led along this path again and again, regardless of their proclaimed political principles?
    In the case of Partition, what the country needs is a COUNCIL OF PATRIOTS working together to speak out from outside the palace.
    I’m not talking about millions of Israelis, Caroline, but of maybe a dozen influential thinkers and activists who would present a made-in-Israel proposal to counteract the made-in-Washington roadmap to self-destruction.
    MK Aryeh Eldad is hosting a conference on “Jordan is Palestine”. Geert Wilders will be in attendance. This is an excellent example of taking charge. Explore other alternatives to partition and present them to the public and to the government itself.
    But you need a group of strong, principled and influential Zionists speaking with one voice. This is extremely important in order to prevent “pressures” on just one or two leaders. The more, the SAFER they’d be. People with no political ambition, just the desire to protect the country.
    As for foreign “pressure” exerted on the your government, Zionists will just have to exert more pressure from this side. As much as it’s needed to keep the integrity of the land. Keep a close eye on those MKs. Make it clear that Israelis know what’s at stake and that their careers will be over if they buckle.

  • naomir 12/04/2010 at 21:31

    Shavuah tov and Chanukah sameach Caroline and Latma team. Many thanks for your satire which shows the true state of world affairs today. I often wonder if there perhaps are too many political parties in Israel? Each is interested in its own self image and none are concerned with what the majority of Israelis really want or care about. Even self esteem isn’t an issue as we aim to please the entire world no matter the cost. Maybe it’s finally time to redefine Israeli politics and bring in people such as yourself. People who are strong enough to say no to our enemies, but also caring enough to do what’s best for the Israelis. There will always be some dissent within a government and it is often healthy, but a true democracy must serve the best interests of it’s people.

  • David 12/05/2010 at 5:57

    Hi –
    Great article. Thank you.
    The disparity between the opinions of the elites in Israel and the Israeli population has always been a source of amazement (and frustration) to me.
    One additional point is how the left-wing media here is often the prime instrument in disseminating the slanted, left-driven coverage of events to western media outlets.
    The most virulent Israel-bashing stories carried by western media outlets routinely cite Haaretz and it’s stable of self-loathing “journalists” as their source.
    Despite the complete lack of common ground (let alone agreement) between the beliefs of the average Israeli and those of Village Idiots such as Gideon Levy, he and the political fringe Haaretz represent are consistently peddled to western news outlets as Israeli “news sources”.
    It would be nice if there was a central or general index of alternative news sources for Israel that were more reflective of Israeli opinion and attitudes.

  • ripalinsky 12/05/2010 at 22:56

    Can Latma foster “grassroots” activity where conservatives talk to each other and organize educative activities among local citizens? One group encouraged “adopt a politician” where each individual choses a particular politician to communicate with about issues (emails, etc).

  • Pesach B Tov 12/10/2010 at 15:18

    Todah rabah, Caroline.
    Sadly, this continues the Left vs Rational folks exjemplified by Ben Gurion vs Jabotinsky in the 20’s & 30s. Labor used many dirty tricks to discredit the revisionists. However, even when Ben Gurion met with Jabotinsky and made some compromises, other Labor leaders refused to follow.
    I agree with ripalinsky about ‘adopt a politician.’ The AIPAC model would be useful: local organizations, student organizations, national conferences, targeting politicians.


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