The embodiment of the Israeli nightmare
So you think the Israeli reality show reached the bottom of the typecasting pit? Rivka from Come Dine with Me, a mix of settler and New Ager, is a reminder that we can always stoop lower.
By Nissan Shor • (Translation: Ali Nissenbaum and Sol Salbe)*
Rivka, the settler on the new season of Come Dine with Me, is the embodiment of the Israeli nightmare. The rot and its consequences. A crooked combination of all that’s wrong with the traditional and with the modern. She is everything we were warned about when discussing the inevitable cost of the Occupation: moral atrophy, incoherent values, indifference to human life, blindness, hypocrisy, victim mentality, and racism. These concepts have almost lost their meaning from overuse, leftist clichés that have worn thin, but when they are solidified in such a concentrated and distilled way in one television personality, it’s like a slap in the face.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such an extreme wacky character on the screen. She presented herself with such charm and ease, with such photogenicity, with a white Cheshire-cat smile that rarely fades from her smug and self-satisfied face. Rivka is the perfect poster girl for the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands. The mascot of the Hilltop Youth. The fanatical curly-haired Bar Refaeli of Israel’s Far Right.
For those who have not watched the show, a brief explanation is required: Rivka Lapir is a 24-year-old woman who found her way onto the lineup of personalities on Come Dine with Me, the outstanding reality series produced by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation. She was born and raised in the illegal outpost of Amona, which was destroyed after a series of riots and violent clashes between the settlers and the army. As an adult, Rivka moved to the settlement of Amichai with her husband. Amichai was built on privately-owned Palestinian land, which was expropriated for the construction of public buildings that were never built. In spite of this, in 2017 the Israeli High Court rejected objections to the establishment of the settlement. Come Dine with Me cast Rivka as a “settler”, not as a real person. There haven’t been real people on reality shows for years. The contestants know exactly what role they are supposed to play and how they are expected to behave. They are not naive[SS1] . This is also what makes the reality world so boring. It is a public arena into which archetypes of Israeliness are thrown, who butt heads with each other and emit predictable retorts. Until suddenly someone like Rivka arrives and demonstrates that there are still surprises even in a genre that seems to have exhausted itself. I thought we had reached the bottom of the typecast pit, and suddenly there were loud knocks from below.
Rivka doesn’t know any other reality than that of the illegal outposts. “I feel like I have it all,” she declares to the camera. She has a convenience store and a supermarket near the house, half an hour and she’s in Jerusalem and within an hour she is in the centre of Tel Aviv. What could be better? Soon she and her family will move to Hill 777, a settler outpost near Nablus. “It’s so bucolic[SS2] ,” she says, her eyes lighting up as if she were describing Tuscany. In 2018 Haaretz revealed that the sewerage of Amichai is being discharged onto nearby Palestinian fields, but Rivka’s nose is blocked. She does not smell the stench, nor will she smell it. According to her, Amichai is not part of the Wild West created in Judea and Samaria [the official Israeli term for the West Bank]. This is a magical “communal settlement”. No harassment, no pogroms, no violent clashes. Shhh, what a wonderful silence outside.
When Rivka introduces herself, Shai Avivi, the program’s host, contents himself with a few sarcastic and non-binding comments. It seems that he and his screenwriter, Deakla Keydar, swallowed their tongues. And in any case, they don’t have a mandate to tear into Rivka. They also know that in recent years the settler Right has been normalised and joined the mainstream. Far-Right politician Itamar Ben Gvir storms the next coalition and will win a ministerial position in the next government. So what good would comedy be, and what good would come from any jokes at the expense of someone like Rivka? While the Leftists laugh, the settlers will establish facts on the ground.
Rivka isn’t one of those military parka-wearing settlers like the guys who founded Sebastia, and she isn’t like the right-wing ultra-orthodox Daniella Weiss either, though they have the same Cheshire smile. She represents an insufferable fusion: an automatic, religious, messianic ideology, alongside Western spirituality and diluted New Age slogans taken from quotes she found on Google. She wears a head covering similar to an Indian pashmina and also teaches “feminine yoga” that focuses on the uterus and vagina, just like all the Tel Avivians who run yoga studios in in the recently gentrified neighbourhood of Florentin. She even has that Tel Avivian intonation, or “Tel Avivian”, as it’s sometimes parodied on satirical TV shows. A generic chirpy voice, childish, gentle and fluttering, like the stereotypical privileged north Tel Avivian. Here she takes a deep breath, and is filmed on a yoga mat, doing the downward dog. Behind her, a blood-soaked conflict. Sorry, I mean a stunning view.
Rivka’s week on Come Dine with Me took place in the geographical space of the Dan region of central Israel (AKA Greater Tel Aviv) and Samaria. The Hilltop Girl was introduced to four other cooks who “love to host, and love to win”, as they say in the promo: a Leftist from the country’s centre (Geula), a slightly more moderate settler (Oren), a teacher and educator (Sharon), and of course, we must have the token Arab (Moudi). This is the central axis on which the segment revolves — how will Rivka react to the very existence of an Arab? Well, she managed to fall into all the traps: at their first meeting, at Moudi’s house in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, she requested to light the stove herself, according to the religious ruling that “if a Jew lights the fire, it is not considered Gentile cooking.” Later, she explained that she opposes mixed marriages because “everyone should marry their own people” and concluded with “Hashem [God] bless you.” The other guests were shocked by the rudeness, and Rivka explained: “when there’s resistance, it means that I struck a nerve.” [SS3] In the spirit of these times, saying blunt and impolite things is considered acceptable dialogue, even a display of courage. What did she even say that was so bad? New Age culture also encourages us not to keep things bottled up.
When Rivka hosted the other cooks at her home in the settlement, she served a meal consisting of roast lamb and qatayef for dessert, as if she were a certified authentic Palestinian. Hast thou Occupied, and also cooked? When Moudi explained to her that it was difficult for him to visit her home, for all the obvious reasons, she started sulking and whining and inverted the narrative: she is the victim, he is the victimiser. “He has revealed his true Arab face,” she announced tensely and asked to be consoled: to be given a hug, some encouragement, a compliment, because she feels “just not comfortable”, the robbed Cossack on a yoga mat.
In another episode, Rivka spoke about “the great light that comes from fraternising with people”, while recounting the time she met a Christian missionary, grabbed the New Testament from his hand, and ripped it to shreds. “I want people to get offended less, and then there’ll be less drama”, she clarified sweetly, and failed to notice that no one could stand her presence, her wounded passive-aggression. Zero self-awareness of her place in the universe, of her implicit and explicit violence. She took the plate of filet slices she was served, and ate them with her hands, tearing bloody pieces with an open mouth, in some kind of unsophisticated metaphor. It’s really just too good to be real.
“I need to give myself a hug,” she said and hugged herself. This is after she forced everyone to join hands and have a hug circle. Rivka manages to combine two inner worlds — the illegal outposts and New Age spirituality — without feeling that there is any kind of conflict or contradiction. And perhaps there really is no conflict and no contradiction. It’s a dubious combination that already exists in the newer settlements. It’s just that Rivka has brought it to the point of whimsical absurdity and grotesqueness. Rivka is both a cruel mistress and a modest and soft-spoken guru. She combines settler egotism with the New-Age narcissism of populist strategies for self actualisation. Both groups believe they are at a higher level of consciousness, whether political-ideological or spiritual. Only to the settlers and their spiritual twins does the holy one appear. They have an extra soul. Only they are authentic and in touch with themselves. The settlers’ clinginess to the land is done for pure religious reasons. God promised us this land. The New Age promises to elevate the inner self. Both promises are unfounded, to say the least.
The settlers connect with nature and land. Rivka also connects to the pelvic floor. All she cares about is her own “wellbeing”. Ostensibly she is not interested in worldly things, only holiness. She leads a spiritual life, and you better not dare burst her bubble. She is already on the transcendental plane with the rest of the Hilltop Youth who have returned to Godliness. The Palestinians are nothing more than a material nuisance that requires no acknowledgement. They are the unenlightened, still insisting on their right to sovereignty, self-determination and freedom of movement. Well, they should get over it already and stop this nonsense. And if they don’t? We will burn down their village, then we will go to a yoga class with Rivka. And for dessert: qatayef.
- Translated by Ali Nissenbaum for the Middle East New Service.
Edited by Sol Salbe, Melbourne, Australia
Haaretz’s Hebrew original title:
Rivka from Come Dine with Me is not just a settler: she is the embodiment of the Israeli nightmare