Published in The Jerusalem Post on, January 10, 1999
I’m sorry to burst Amnon Lipkin-Shahak’s balloon so early in the campaign, but you can’t run for Prime Minister as a ‘centrist’ when you’re not.
Don’t get me wrong. Shahak is charming, appears to be level-headed, speaks of consensus and reconciliation, and has an impressive military career behind him. He radiates strength, and is untainted by previous political party affiliation.
But that’s not credentials enough in order to claim the centrist, high ground. Aside from his ability to draw discontents and other politicians seeking to catapult their careers forward, from both labor and Likud — just what makes Shahak a centrist?
Take Shahak’s political platform, as expressed in interviews over recent days. He supports Oslo, pretty much unconditionally; indeed, he thinks it was a great agreement. He speaks of *our* need to regain ‘credibility’ in the process and to live up to *our* obligations. He ignores Palestinian violations, and trusts Yasser Arafat.
Shahak hankers for the good old days when the peace process with the Palestinians was galloping forward through good will, and the international community consequently was in love with us. He would move forward quickly towards a painful settlement with Syria over the Golan (*all* the Golan?), and thus hope to settle things in Lebanon too.
If you ask me, this isn’t very centrist.
Middle-of-the-road Israelis – and yes, I think we are many and growing – are pretty cynical about Oslo, quite disillusioned. There’s no going back now, and we have to live with the Palestinian state it created. But at this point Oslo’s dangers and perils rival its gains, and a centrist Prime Minister would give expression to that.
A centrist leader would focus on fixing Oslo, on holding Arafat to his obligations, on protecting our security, settlement and water interests as we move into the next, critical stages. On reassuring the Israeli public that he would drive a hard bargain. A genuine centrist leader would sound, in fact, much like…. Binyamin Netanyahu — but with a pinch more credibility and a bushel less bombast.
But our new would-be ‘centrist’ honcho is absolutely certain that Netanyahu’s policies are unredeemingly and categorically dangerous, flat out. Only criticism, with no similar reproach for Labor/Meretz positions. Labor, you see, made no mistakes. This is centrist?
Nor does Shahak’s ‘centrist’ chatter on religious-secular relations sound authentic. He speaks of ending religious coercion, and supporting personal rights and freedoms against the rabbinate monopoly in Jewish marriage and divorce. He supports the Neeman compromise on conversions, and wants to end, without coercion, across-the-board Ultra-Orthodox draft-dodging.
Legitimate, logical demands. But none of this is balanced by any expression of concern for the Jewish character of the state or evidence of a commitment to intensified Jewish or classical Zionist education.
I don’t think Shahak has any idea what Jewish content he would fill our grandchildren’s heads with, once he’s done away with all the big bad religious bogey-men, their laws and their unjust perks. Reading Amos Oz literature; loving “your neighbor as yourself”; and “smiling again” is nice, but contains little identity-building stamina or substance. “Israel netto”, as Shahak ambiguously put it, isn’t too impressive as a value-system.
And finally, I have no choice but to judge the political novice Shahak by the company he keeps. His candidacy was hatched in the homes of Leah and Dahlia Rabin. The politicos he has closely advising him – sitting at his side in every TV spot – include Oslo godfather Uri Savir and Behira Berdugo (both top aides to Shimon Peres) and Shimon Sheves (Yitzhak Rabin’s polemic chief-of-staff). Nobody from the Right side of the political map or even the conservative wing of the Labor Party.
These are some of the key guys behind the horribly-cantankerous Labor-Meretz government of 1992-96; a government that led a sustained crusade against religious institutions and a merciless assault on right-wing institutions. A spiteful, divisive government.
I can’t but help notice on more thing: Shahak is aligning himself with the opportunist, hareidi-bashing Ronnie Milo.
So I ask you: is Shahak’s push truly ‘centrist’? Can we expect it to be consensus-building and loving, as Shahak promises? Or is Shahak’s ‘centrist’ party just a populist twist on, a softer-cuddlier mask for, a new Labor/Meretz force in Israeli politics?
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak may be idealistic, quality leadership material. A welcome change from the rhetorical excesses and wild fantasies of other leaders. And if your political and religious perspectives are decidedly left-of-center, he might be worth voting for — although I think Ehud Barak has a better claim on the territory.
But don’t go passing-off Shahak as a centrist. Thus far, he’s said or done nothing to earn that worthy title.