Israel's warped mirror: the racist thug who sees himself as a vulnerable victim

June 1, 2012
Sarah Benton

Mysh: Israeli visual artist’s meditation on Jewish suffering, psychic trauma and Israeli racism
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam

I was just looking through my Facebook Newsfeed and discovered the Israeli graphic artist, Mysh. The first work of his I saw was this breathtaking cartoon, A Problem of Self-Image, which speaks so profoundly to elements of the Israeli psyche and explains how historical trauma has led to political dysfunction. In fact, this to me has the classic feeling of R. Crumb‘s comic about nuclear war in which a survivor of a nuclear attack walks through a nuclear winter landscape with a TV in one hand and a plug in the other looking for an outlet. These brilliant images bring with them a shock of recognition, almost a shiver of the soul as you both see the image and absorb its meaning.

A few translations and explanations are in order for the graphic. First, the child in the mirror is based on the famous Holocaust era photo of the young Jewish boy raising his hands in surrender. Looking into the mirror is the Israeli strong-man/bully who’s just smashed in the faces of a few African refugees in Tel Aviv. The fat man’s body is covered with tattoos of a sort which say:

Death to Sudanese

Whatever doesn’t work using force will work using violence.

The only good Arab is a dead Arab.

Run over the Orthodox.

Russians back to Russia, Ethiopians back to Ethiopia.

Though I’m tempted to offer my own commentary on the image, I’m also leery of over-analyzing it since its eloquence speaks for itself. Suffice to say, that Mysh tells us that the average Israeli racist, the types that smashed windows and beat up refugees in Tel Aviv, lives with a psyche not just wounded by the Holocaust, but poisoned by it. He is a prisoner of his past and fated to inflict his suffering on anyone who is less strong than he is. We all know who those victims have been and will be.

Title: Shavuot night/ Kristallnacht Tel Aviv 2012 caption: ‘It’s great you’ve come to make a minyan, Mireleh.’

The second cartoon features two Israeli politicians who recently made rabidly racist smears of African immigrants: Kahanist MK Michael Ben Ari and Likud MK, Miri Regev. Both addressed and incited the crowds of pogromists who later rampaged through the African neighborhood in south Tel Aviv. Regev in particular said that the refugees were a “cancer” in Israel’s body. The background of the cartoon is that the night of the Tel Aviv pogrom was also the first night of Shavuot, usually a night of meditative study of Jewish sacred texts.

In the cartoon, a white-hooded Yishai welcomes Regev to a Ku Klux Klan like night-time party. One of the words of tikun leyl Shavuot is crossed out, which turns the phrase into the Night of Glass [Kristallnacht]. As Regev reaches out to take the noose Yishai offers, he smiles and says to her: “Thanks for making a minyan, Mireleh.”

In Jewish religious practice, “making” a minyan [quorum] allows the prayer service to commence. But here the minyan allows the pogroms to begin. The satiric reference to the minyan also alludes to the Orthodox religious beliefs espoused by Yishai and many of the extreme Israeli right which are used to fortify their racist attitudes.

Where has this wonderful artistic voice come from? Mysh or Michael Rozanov, was born in Riga, Latvia in 1977 and emigrated to Israel as a teenager. He became a visual artist and his oeuvre includes graphic illustration and film and animation work both for TV and cinema. He studied at Israel’s leading art school, Bezalel, and now teaches there.

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