Why Israeli Purim spiels don’t do the trick

By Nathan Jeffay, March 1, 2013
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Children from the Havat Gil’ad settlement in the West Bank ride to a Purim party on a tractor (Photo: Flash 90)

Children from the Havat Gil’ad settlement in the West Bank ride to a Purim party on a tractor (Photo: Flash 90)

As Jerusalem prepares for US President Barack Obama’s visit on March 20, Israelis have one burning question — what will the prime minister’s wife wear?

Sara Netanyahu’s dress sense was widely criticised after the Knesset swearing-in ceremony in early February, when she wore a dress that was, in parts, semi-see through. While a transparent dress helped to turn Kate Middleton into a princess, for Mrs Netanyahu it brought only criticism, including from fashion commentator Dorin Attias, who sniped that she looked like an advert for Michelin tyres.

On Sunday, Haaretz reported that ahead of the Obama visit, the Prime Minister’s Office was handing responsibility for Mrs Netanyahu’s appearance to the public. Following a campaign to have the public choose the logo for the event, it has posted three possible outfits on its Facebook page and will make its choice based on a popular vote.

The Jerusalem Post had conflicting information. It too reported that Mrs Netanyahu was outsourcing her dress choice — but to Lady Gaga. “I know I can’t pull off wearing raw meat or a head cage, but I know I can do better than that black lace, see-through outfit I wore at the Knesset,” she said, according to the Post.

Although it is hard to know how many were taken in by the two Purim spiels, one thing is certain. Benjamin Netanyahu’s his wife has long been a figure of fun and sometimes disdain in the media, so it came as no surprise that two publications used Purim as an excuse to make her the butt of a joke.

The Times of Israel’s highly unbelievable spiel came at the expense of another popular target in Israel — Charedim. It told the story of a young Charedi plane crash survivor who drifted around the Atlantic as a castaway for 227 days along with the Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, whom he struggled to keep away from in their 16ft lifeboat.

The pro-settler site Arutz Sheva took aim at its favourite punch-bag — Israeli left-wingers. It said that they were holding alternative Purim events to commemorate the suffering of the non-Jewish residents of Shushan, where the Purim story is set. According to the Book of Esther, the Jews fought against them. Leftists were to remember the “Shushan Nakba” and were reportedly collecting testimonies from members of Haman’s family.

While Israeli publications are good at using Purim to take aim against their favourite targets, they are poor tricksters. With their emphasis on serious political and security matters, many pass up the opportunity to wind up readers, and those that do tend to either clearly identify the stories as pranks or make them outrageous enough to avoid confusion. They do not want the joke to spark an international media storm.

If only Beersheva mayor Ruvik Danilovich had been as careful. He told a local paper that he planned to relocate out of the city — a revelation that caused concern among some local residents who took it seriously. He issued a statement clarifying that he was staying put.

Last updated: 12:45pm, March 1 2013