Who is afraid of Eli Yishai?
Shas' partnership with the Likud proved to be less opportunistic than others had expected.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Israel’s dictatorship of literary conformism stood at attention as Interior
Minister Eli Yishai (the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party),
announced his decision to declare Günter Grass a persona non grata in Israel.
Grass was heavily criticized in Israel for a poem he wrote in which he describes
Israel as a major threat to world peace.
Celebrated author Prof. Ronith
Matalon said, “Let Yishai put Grass on the [Mavi] Marmara, drown along with it
in the sea – it is all empty criticism. Which criticism would Yishai wish to
hear? Since when has he any relation to culture? Did he ever hear of Grass?”
Eyal Meged, another well-known author, claimed that Yishai “never read a word of
Grass, he has no clue who is he... he is ignorant and racist. It’s a
shame for Israel to have him as interior minister. The prime minister should
sack him due to his racist, primitive action, stemming from
Yair Graboz, a famous radical artist and publicist, outdid
himself by saying that “in the Israeli government there is only stupidity...
it’s not about Right, religion or anything else, just stupidity...The link
between the banishment [of Grass] and poetry makes sense only to someone who
knows nothing but the poetry of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef [the spiritual leader of
Sephardi haredim in Israel]. It’s idiotism. Once we talk of Eli Yishai, we do
not talk about poetry, and vice versa.”
One doesn’t need to be a genius
to understand that the arrogance displayed by these and others is, basically,
the worst kind of racism. They excuse Grass, dismissing him as “senile.” That’s
the harshest word they could find to condemn him. However, they see no need to
spare the interior minister, since it is “obvious” that a Sephardi
ultra-Orthodox Jew would never read poetry, and it’s “evident” that haredim are
ignorant when it comes to literature.
This auto-anti-Semitic, Pavlovian
reaction is not new to the Left, but each time it rears its head from of the
feotid swamp of conformist Israeli literature, its rudeness reveals the racist
nature of pseudo-Humanist intellectuals. How did Yishai become the target
for such harsh criticism, and not the poet and former Nazi? Well, it’s not just
racism; there is something deeper to it.
The leader of the Sephardi
ultra-Orthodox party has invigorated the alliance between the secular Right and
the haredim, enabling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to maintain a
sustainable government. While former Shas chairman Rabbi Aryeh Deri
represented a moderate political figure – carrying forward the appeasement
politics which backed the late Rabin in his peace plans, and in addition helped
then-Labor leader Ehud Barak to form a government following his 1999 election
victory – Yishai was more right-wing oriented.
His partnership with the
Likud proved to be less opportunistic than others had expected; the historic
tendency of ultra-Orthodox Jews to ally themselves with whatever political camp
best served their own sectoral interests was replaced by a vigorous, principled
stance with a conservative agenda.
Yishai was much more anti-Palestinian
than his predecessor had been, far more strict and stubborn when it came to
immigration and infiltration issues, quite stiff-necked when minorities’ rights
were involved in his ministry’s affairs. In their eyes, he was a red flag to all
those who advocate a liberal, leftist agenda, especially rights groups and the
academic, literary and juristic milieu.
With Yishai, Shas is expected to
remain an integral part of the right-wing block. Led by an ultra-conservative
leader, the party won’t join any liberal coalition, and is therefore justly
counted in all polls as another partner in Netanyahu’s right-wing camp,
comprising 62-65 MKs. Without Yishai, the game is open.
become the party’s next leader, there is a significant chance Shas can be pulled
out of the right-wing bloc and thrown into the political stock market of imagined
governments and made-up coalitions. Hence, the reactionary, bearded haredi
leader presents an obstacle to the Left’s ambition of overthrowing the
In an article published in Haaretz some two-and-a-half years ago
(25/10/2009), the prominent paper’s columnist Gideon Levy argued, “Eli Yishai is
the ultimate Israeli xenophobe, Jean-Marie Le Pen with a beard, Jorg Heider in a
skullcap, a Mizrahi [Meir] Kahane.” These lines are not just infected with the
anti-Semitic hooliganism of a self-hating Jew, but display political
sophistication: Meged, Mathalon and Levy et al want Yishai to be a political
Liel Leibovitz, following Levy’s path in an article published in
Tablet Magazine online (9/4/12), commenting on Yishai’s decision to ban Grass
from entering Israel, wrote: “If anyone still needs any additional proof that
Israel is headed into benighted realms, Yishai was all too happy to provide it.
He, and the bosses who back him, acted like every weak, frightened, irrational,
and vindictive country always acts.” These lines do not just constitute harsh
incitement against Israel and its interior minister – in essence, it is the call
of the liberal rabble for the political execution of their most bitter
The author is a journalist and columnist for the conservative
Makor Rishon daily and News1 website. The author wishes to thank Mr. Jessie
Dlinfor his assistance.