The politics of defamation

Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 20, 1998

And they’re off….! We’re in for one of the most divisive, negative election campaigns ever in our history. Of course, the politicians concern themselves very little with the fraying fabric of our society, and the deleterious impact of their demagoguery. The key is to win, no matter what. Here’s what to watch for:


* Binyamin Netanyahu: “Just who is going to better protect Israel’s interests in final status talks?”, is Bibi’s expected — reasonable although arguable — campaign slogan.


The Prime Minister would be well advised, however, to stay away from seditious smearing, such as his “the Left has forgotten its Jewishness” remark, whispered last year into the ear of Rabbi Kedouri. No need to stoop this low. It’s dangerous too; we have a frightening familiarity with enflamed passions of a religious-political overtone, and where such sentiments might lead.


I hope that Netanyahu remembers that it is not enough to speak of hanging tough and resisting pressure. I, for one, want to know how he is going to both stand firm *and* protect, even enhance, our most important diplomatic and security asset – Israel’s strategic alliance with the US. The dangerous slippage in US-Israel coordination, exacerbated by the incautious handling of Clinton’s visit last week, is Bibi’s greatest mistake, and I don’t think we can tolerate any more such mishandling of this all-important relationship.


* Ehud Barak: “Bibi is a liar” may resonate well, and sound good to the campaign consultants, but it is a slogan that drags our political discourse further down into the gutter. Mr. Barak, do you really have to portray the Prime Minister as a profligate liar in order to get across your party’s message of hope and peace? Again, the politics of defamation have been tried before in this country with disastrous and tragic results. Beware.


Think carefully before running a Meretz-style anti-hareidi campaign: “They’re coming to take over your neighborhoods, your schools, your shopping malls, to steal your kids. Oy vey, watch out! Vote Labor to preserve your secular independence.”


The problems with this are two-fold. Firstly, it is unbelievable. We all know that Labor would need to hareidim to govern, and would never implement what it propogandanizes against them. Secondly, there’s no vision here for the country. No alternative ideals. Is this what centrist Labor Zionism has come to – anti-clericalism and anti-hareidism?


* Roni Milo: It is not clear yet what framework the political charlatan named Milo will attach himself to, but you can be sure that his platform, too, will reek of raw anti-religious exaggeration. One more opportunist attempting to ride the wave, urging secular Israel to man the barricades. I wonder: just how many “go-get-the-hareidim” parties can succeed in one election campaign? The overkill will work against the Left, I think, and scare away, not attract, secular right-wingers.


* Shahak and Meridor: Rumors are that Milo will link-up with Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, still wearing his post-IDF-service halo; with Alex Lubotsky of the Third Way; and with Dan Meridor, who is expected to bolt Likud. Now this is interesting.


I’m a big fan of Meridor’s – he’s smart, temperate by nature, experienced both in economic matters and high diplomacy, principled yet a realist. If I were Meridor, I’d be wary of Milo. And for all his “Ramatcal” gallantry, good looks and high poll numbers, Lipkin-Shahak is an untested, unproven element in politics. Just consider how quickly General Ehud Barak’s luster faded away!


As a vote-getter, I’d place my money on the less-well-known but ever-solid Lubotsky. There is a huge middle ground out there waiting to be captured, voters searching for moderate, consensual leadership – and the respected Lubotsky, like Meridor, fits the mold. The pair has the potential to reach across religious-secular lines and be the big surprise of the spring vote.


* Russians: Avigdor Lieberman is likely to mount an alternative to Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, taking Yuri Stern and Avraham Nudelman with him, along with the right-wing Larissa Gerstein. Gerstein’s husband is editor of Vremya, the main, influential Russian-language daily, and you can guess whose side the paper will be on. So, Natan Sharansky will have to define much more clearly what he stands for.


* The Far-Right: Yitzhak Levy’s NRP will soon fall off the end of the world if it lurches any farther right, and I don’t see it becoming the anchor for a new, hard-Right umbrella movement. Many Religious Zionists, considerably less extreme than the party rabbis and leaders, are going to look for new political homes, unless Levy can articulate a platform that goes beyond defending *yishuvim* in *Yesha*.


In the meantime, Shas will continue to clean-up. Fifteen seats, I’d say. Its *kemaiot*; laudable package of heritage and family values; along with an overflow of self-righteousness and a far-reaching social services network — cannot be wished away.


And beyond all this predictable polemic prattle — is there a promise, dare I ask for vision? Ach…. Israelis looking for leadership that occasionally will make their hearts soar or intellect go into overdrive are bound to be disappointed. Expect a viscerally dirty, bitterly divisive, mud-slinging election campaign.

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

Accessibility Toolbar