Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pun Intended

The obscene campaign directed at the New Israeli Fund is what everybody's talking about. However, not everyone is talking about it in the same language.

Short synopsis for those who missed out: The N.I.F. supports all sorts of social organizations in Israel, among them those that deal with preservation of human rights and with advancment of progressive thought. This week, an obscure reactionary organization named "Im Tirzu", one that calls for "reeducation" of non right-wing Israelis, launched an extremely well funded campaign against the fund. It claims that organizations supported by it are responsible for the Goldstone comittee's harsh critique of Israel's military actions in Gaza.

The Campain's main image is that of Naomi Chazan, the fund's director, with a horn growing out of her forehead. It seems to be a fake horn strapped there, rather than an organic horn. Nonetheless, this is perhaps the worst pun in the history of advertizing. In Hebrew the word "keren" signifies both "horn" and "fund". So Mrs. Hazan has a horn, a.k.a. fund. Great, children.

The horn motif carries very obvious racist references. Antisemitic religious leaders in various places around the world still teach their flock that Jews re born with horns. Friends who have traveled the American heartland told me of small town folk who timidly asked to touch their scalps, then asked them whether the surgery was painful.

Why are Jews said to have horns? because the devil is said to have horns. Why does the devil have horns? because early christianity saught to destroy the animlistic worship of rams in ancient europe. It did so by portraying the horned ram as a demonic creature and designing the image of Satan as his double. In short, horns and defemation are synonimous in western culture.

The hilarity of it all is that while Israelis "got" the pun, most non-Hebrew speakers didn't. The ad first appeared in the Jerusalem Post, an English language newspaper. All that the readers saw there was a rhinolike woman, a caricature that seemed cut directly out of some old Geobelsian pamphlet. The readership of the right-leaning jpost produced little outcry. They disagree deeply enough with the progressive left to accept horned women.

I don't. I believe that personal defemation begins in a charicature and often ends in a funeral (Rabin's image, computer-manipulated to look as though he was wearing an SS uniform, was shown on banners in right-wing demonstrations weeks before his assasination). I also believe that further diverting the discussion of the Goldstone report from its content to an issue of funding, is cynicism at its worst. The same trick was played when the organization "Breaking the Silence" released a compandium of soldiers' testimonies from the Gaza slaughter. Rather than deal with the accusations, the Israeli leadership immidiately began seeking "fishy funders" of the organization. What they found was the Dutch government. Well done.

I wonder how the throne of the Netherlands would have reacted at the time, had an Israeli organization published the image of Queen Beatrix sporting a horn. Would they have made our Ambassador to the Hague sit on a low chair and yakked at him in Dutch? I doubt it deeply. The untranslatable quality of the horn pun is not the only reason foreigners aren't "getting the joke". Eleswhere in the world such concepts as respect and civility are actually maintained. It's only we who threw them to the wind, and are kicking each other and others gladly, like a herd of rams and goats.


Jael said...

I feel abhorred and saddened by campaigns like that...

Ben Murane, New Israel Fund said...

Thanks for your support!

We're asking all supporters of the New Israel Fund and democracy to contact Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to stop a bill in the Knesset aimed at defunding us and all human rights groups in Israel. The hearing will be Wed, Feb 10th.

You can find the full details and Bibi's contact information here:

Anonymous said...

Your outrage at this crude attack on Naomi Chazan and the N.I.F is justified but I don’t understand how suddenly a rhino horn is transformed under your gaze into two ram horns. In Christianity Satan is symbolically represented by the scapegoat Christ is represented as the ram or the lamb. Satanists traditionally have given Satan rams’ horns in a gesture of mockery. Now there is a saying ‘just because your paranoid it does not mean they are not out to get you’. Am I just not getting it, or is it true as you infer that the entire world is anti-Semitic?

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

Well, I just think whether horns are used to mock or demonize, they are a dependable means of harm someone's image. In Hebrew, when someone is said to be "horned" that means that his or her lover is unfaithful.

Not every horn is the devil's horn and not every horn is tied to antisemitism, but horns evoke both associations. I don't think the ad's designers chose to ignore them, but rather that they decided to use their potency as a way of provoking the public.

By the way, a horn is also a phallic symbol and especially that of the rhino. White rhinos became nearly extinct because their horn is used in making a folk aphrodisiac. emasulating a woman is another way of hurting her image.

The horn in the ad is meant to make Chazan look undignified. She hardly emerges as a charming unicorn.

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