Had Benjamin Netanyahu taken 12 cabinet posts, fired 11 diplomats, legislated a haredi army exemption, and annexed the West Bank with a government of only 30 seats – the country would have been on fire! Yet the leftist of government of the year 2000 did wildly outrageous things similar to this, and the media was silent. A worthwhile reminder for the year 2009.
Could it be that a double standard in Israeli politics — in favor of the Left — has become exceedingly entrenched? Might it be, sadly, that lack of confidence in the fairness and fidelity of our democracy is justified?
Well, let’s see. Imagine what the reaction of our press and public would have been had Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu tried to lead Israel with a government of only 30 odd seats in parliament! Imagine the howling, barking and bellowing that would ensue, and the mass demonstrations that would have rocked the streets, had Bibi dared to change the status of the territories — say, annex them, not withdraw from them. Imagine the outrage and tumult had Bibi dared to tinker with Jerusalem, with an itsy-bitsy, feeble excuse for a government.
Had Bibi arrogated to himself some twelve cabinet posts, after half his government quit in protest against his polices and personality, the country would be on fire. The media would be savaging Bibi – fangs, claws, vituperative editorials disguised as ‘reportage’ and all – non-stop, every day, on every broadcast, from every radio and television station, and from the front page of every paper. Imagine what the international press would be saying.
Every good government, free rights, human rights, citizen’s rights, animal rights, pro-democracy, legal, academic and advocacy group in this country would be petitioning the High Court to block the dictatorial, undemocratic appointment by the Prime Minister of “temporary” shadow ministers to fill half the senior decision-making posts in Israel, sidestepping the need for Knesset approval.
Had Bibi come back from a Camp David summit without an agreement, our leftist press would have led with bloodthirsty, screaming headlines about the “last chance for peace” squandered by the obstinate and obstructionist Bibi, and the inevitable war-to-come brought down upon us by the evil Netanyahu. Rabin Square in Tel Aviv would have filled with “half a million” (really 150,000) protestors, shrieking gevalt, insisting on new elections, and swearing to wreak revenge at the polls.
Had Bibi summarily and unceremoniously fired eleven senior diplomats including the director-general of the Foreign Ministry on his first – and only – day in the Foreign Minister’s chair, all hell would have broken loose, worldwide. The unions and all those “rights” movements mentioned above would be banging down the doors of the High Court. And the eminent Court, undoubtedly, would back them up. Jewish leaders abroad would be flying in to reverse the baneful decree issued against one or another of their favorite diplomats.
Had Bibi shamelessly humiliated himself before Shas, time and time again, in order to court Rabbi Yosef’s favor and secure Eli Yishai’s support for his government – using the nauseating munificence and rhetorical benevolence that Ehud Barak generously has heaped on the Sephardic Torah Guardians — people would be vomiting in the streets. Amos Oz, Gideon Levy and Dalia Itzik would be on the verge of seizures, flying leaps out the window or a flight out of the country. Shulamit Aloni would come barging back out of retirement to haunt the airwaves with her poisonous venom.
Had Bibi brazenly attempted to intervene in the broadcast schedules of Israel Radio and Television, attempting to dictate the line-up of morning interviewees and edit the questions to be asked of politicians – nuclear civil war would break out. Had he dared appoint as the minister responsible for the airwaves a pitbull politician with a proven record of aggressive interference in the workings of the media, a Bolshevik with no moral scruples about the maintenance of a free press — someone, say, like Dalia Itzik — our electronic media would have had a collective heart attack and gone on immediate and indefinite strike. (Not that this would be so terrible….)
Had Bibi attempted to legislate a blanket exemption from army service for haredim with Justice Tal’s committee report as his justification, the entire IDF senior brass, professional officer corps and the total, nationwide reserve force would have turned in their military identification cards. Flat out. An absolute, complete refusal to serve. Effigies of Netanyahu dressed in black haredi garb would have been dragged through the streets and spat upon.
Had Bibi proposed a draconian tax reform which strips longtime benefits away from some of the holy cows in Israeli society (like an imposition of inheritance tax on the rich, or a reduction in benefits for working mothers), and then proceeded to sheepishly back down from the plan in the face of Histadrut opposition — he’d be ridiculed in the economic press and business world. “Wishy-washy Netanyahu is scaring away foreign investors” would read the panicky, accusatory headlines.
Had Bibi cut purchase taxes on 600 electronic items from refrigerators to video cameras, in dramatic fashion, by drastic amounts, in one fell swoop without warning, one bright day as his government was tottering – and then tried to deny that his motive was pure election economics (i.e., a bribe to the voting public) – we’d all laugh so hard our sides would split open. We’d say: what a farce this government has become!
Had Bibi taken 12 cabinet posts, fired 11 diplomats, legislated a haredi army exemption, and annexed the West Bank with a government of only 30 seats – the country would be on fire!
First published in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, August 20, 2000