Two Israeli Caricatures (Kova Tembel)

israeli caricature 1israeli caricature 2

Cultures create caricatures. Here’s one from Israel, and here’s another one, representing two distinct generations, two distinct ideological and ideologically committed forms and figures, one clearly secular, the other clearly religious. The latter threatens to cannibalize the former.

Created in 1956 by Kariel Gardosh (aka Dosh) “Srulik” was once the symbol of modern Israel. Journalist Shalom Rosenfeld, editor of Maariv in 1974-1980, wrote: “Srulik became not only a mark of recognition of [Dosh’s] amazing daily cartoons, but an entity standing on its own, as a symbol of the Land of Israel – beautiful, lively, innocent … and having a little chutzpah, and naturally also of the new Jew.”

Meir Ettinger is no less a caricature. The grandson of Jewish radical and religious racist Meir Kahane, his look is common among the so-called Hilltop Youth, the young radical and violent settlers in the Occupied West Bank and in Jerusalem. He’s part Haredi, part post-Zionist, even anti-Zionist. With his wild look and cockeyed grin, he hates Arabs and gentiles only a little bit more than he hates the secular State of Israel. If it was Srulik who represented in caricature the new Jew and beautiful Israel, Meir represents the new Israeli and ugly Judaism.

My point here, of course, is that this is caricature, not social realism. In his antipathy to the state, Ettinger represents in no way the actual views of the vast majority of Israelis. But neither did Gush Emunim in the 1970s or the Jewish Underground in the 1980s, just like in the 1950s and 1960s, most Israeli Jews did not live on kibbutzim as Srulik might supposedly have done. What I have sought to draw out here is the caricature of a small and ideologically committed avant-garde, the kibbutznik or settler youth, who seek to re-create a nation or a people in its own image. That Meir seeks to usurp and undermine the State represented by Srulik is part of a negative dialectic.

It might be that  “juxtaposition” is not the right word to convey this disjoint in Israeli identity and Zionist and post-Zionist ideology. It might not be a clear juxtaposition as much as a swerve, a discontinuity more than a continuity. But the difference between discontinuity and continuity is one that might sustain more than a little deconstruction.

Separated ideologically by an almost 50 year military occupation that has been sponsored by the state and  fueled by religious fanatics, the only thing that connects these two caricatures visually is that both of them wear a Kova Tembel, or idiot’s hat. That the second Kova Tembel is an oversized  kippa cuts to the heart of what I will continue to call this juxtaposition.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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4 Responses to Two Israeli Caricatures (Kova Tembel)

  1. Mordechai says:

    Very interesting contrast, and nicely put, but the latter almost looks more like a kippah, and I’d be willing to assume has that status for Ettinger, no?

    (Btw, long-time reader–great blog!)

  2. Except, of course, that the state promoted the kibbutznik ideal while no established social institutions – even within the settler movement – support the anti-Zionist monarchic ideology of the radical “hill top” youth. And, of course the “military occupation” of the West Bank (where almost all Arabs enjoy the tender mercies of the Palestinian Authority’s rule) can hardly be racked up to “state sponsorship” alone.

    • zjb says:

      Yes, yes and no. The state and coalition parties support the settlement enterprise and occupation, and it’s the settlement and occupation that are gradually taking over the government. That’s the complex environment in which these monsters have grown up.

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