Milo’s madness

Published in The Jerusalem Post on May 10, 1998

I wish Ronni Milo good health, long life and many years of frustration and neglect, wasting away in the political wilderness.


No, I’m not enamoured of the new anti-hareidi political party Milo declared into existence this week, nor will I choose him for prime minister. Milo’s maverick anti-clerical campaign is bad for the political system, cynically dishonest, and unnecessarily inflammatory.


In establishing the new splinter movement, Milo is attempting to ride the wave of political fragmentation that characterized the last elections, when half-a-dozen small factions sucked the strength out of the two big parties.


Milo’s move will further destabilize and corrode our weakened political system. Especially since these fly-by-night political initiatives usually don’t succeed; when they do, they don’t last long; and if they endure, it’s generally for the self-aggrandizement of their founding politicos, with whatever ideology falling to the wayside.


Moshe Dayan’s Telem party won two seats in 1981, then disappeared. Ditto for Ezer Weizman’s Yahad in 1984. Meimad failed to cross the parliamentary threshold in 1988, as did Yitzhak Modai’s Liberal faction in 1992. The Third Way captured four seats in 1994, but I think that’s because they worked with the traditional public, not against it; and besides, where’s the ideology today?


Only sectoral parties, like the Russians or Shas, have succeeded in Israeli politics of the last fifteen years, not the so-called centrist movements crafted by hungry political hacks or starry-eyed ideologues.


Milo’s political charlatanism doesn’t gain my respect. When it was convenient, few politicians were more right wing then he. (Remember when he accused the nascent Peace Now movement of being a CIA-sponsored group?)


Now he’s collecting disgruntled Meridor’s, Vilnai’s and others left out of one or another political/military framework; jumping ship in Tel Aviv, where his record is thin, and his reelection wasn’t a certainty; and seeking to capitalize on base anti-religious passions, without offering any realistic approaches one might expect from a leader.


Milo knows perfectly well that no conceivable political leadership set of the coming years is going to be able or willing to ram army service down the throats of the ultra-orthodox. And while religious-secular frictions over rabbinate excesses and blasphemous striptease dance acts aren’t going to disappear, the much-ballyhooed ‘culture war’ just isn’t.


We’re really not close to being at * war * with each other, and shouldn’t talk at each other like enemies do. Most people live and work in this country next to and beside others that are very different from them, socially and religiously, without taking knives into the street.


At a time when so many public, educational and volunteer associations are running thousand of successful dialogue groups for religious-secular understanding — Milo wants secular Israel to instead man the barricades. When true moderates in Labor, Likud, the Third Way, NRP and elsewhere are seeking consensus within diversity and the drafting of a new social contract – Milo is cultivating jingoist intolerance.


Milo manifestly is running a scare campaign (‘the hareidim are coming to take over our homes, our shopping malls, our cafes, cinemas and beaches’), sharpened by a press which thrives on exaggeration and is dominated by an elite biased in favor of Milo’s battle cry.


To top it all off, I’m convinced that Milo’s political calculus is skewed. Just how many Meretz-style campaigns and parties can succeed in one election? We’ve now got Sarid, Barak and Milo offering us ‘go-get-the-hareidim’ bumper stickers. The overkill will work against them, and scare away, not attract, moderate secular right-wingers, I think.


And consider this: If Milo forces a second ballot in the race for prime minister, Bibi will have the advantage. I have the sense that in a second round of voting the hareidim will work a lot harder for Bibi than the Arabs will work for Barak. (Remember, the vote for parties in Knesset already will have been settled). So you have to wonder whether Milo correctly has calculated, beyond his personal ambition, the benefits of his candidacy for the political left.


But still, you say, Milo * is * tapping into a deep-rooted resentment among many Israelis, centrist religious people too, against the growing brazenness and political power of radical rabbis and ultra-orthodox politicians. What to do? Setting-up another Meretz isn’t the solution. I say let’s try Labor-Likud national unity, a political configuration that might do us quite some good in peace diplomacy and economic affairs too.


But where would that leave poor Ronni?

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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