Center Field: Who’s afraid of the big bad Left?

We were among the few Jews in New York who celebrated when Menachem Begin won in 1977 – we were among the few who even knew who he was.

March 6, 2019 08:36
Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi

Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi announce the formation of their joint party, Blue and White, in Tel Aviv on February 21st, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Benjamin Netanyahu has made his electoral strategy clear: he thinks that he’ll win if he shouts the L-word – leftist – loudest.

This strategy rests on two pillars. It assumes that Israeli voters are dumb enough to believe that someone like Boogie Ya’alon – whom Netanyahu trusted as Defense Minister – is a leftist and a dupe. Moreover, the word Bibi spits out like a curse “Smolani” – leftist – to him means “Arab-lover.”

The indictments for petty influence-peddling and breach of trust reveal that Netanyahu decided long ago that he was above the law. That’s bad enough. His despicable electoral strategy shows that he also decided the Israeli voter is beneath contempt. Bibi may win reelection; but he has lost his way – and any pretense of moral leadership.

I take no joy in writing these words. The indictment of a prime minister is a sad day for Israel. The indictment of a prime minister for such petty offenses is particularly depressing because it was so unnecessary; the alleged crimes suggest arrogance and neediness.

In response, Netanyahu’s campaign has turned incendiary and indulgent: he’s willing to threaten the stable relationships Israeli Arabs and Jews enjoy, he’s once again willing to violate Israeli Arabs’ sense of security, in order to stay in power.

I wish I didn’t admire Netanyahu’s economic stewardship, his foreign policy, his careful leadership when fighting wars and avoiding them. But no man is indispensable. And Netanyahu’s tawdry ethics, foul mouth, and bullying tactics have made him not just disposable – but obnoxious.

Some readers disliked my condemnation last week of Netanyahu,of every enabling Likudnik, and of the moral pygmies of Bayit Yehudi for allying with Otzma Yehudit – the Kach party. Echoing Bibi’s rubbery morality where red lines don’t exist, they said, “what about Arab traitors and the left-wingers who tolerate them?”

That charge is easy to dismiss: I condemn those radicals too. I wonder, if you can recognize traitors on the Left, why can’t you recognize ones on the Right? Are you judging loyalty, morality, democratic integrity – or are you simply hypocritical, soft on your friends and harsh on your enemies?

The more substantive objection rejected my critique of the Otzma Yehudit’s Kahanism. I was accused of echoing “leftist” lines or politically-correct critics, and not making a case.

As always, nuance is overlooked. I didn’t call these thugs “racists” – just bigots. Clearly, toward the end of his life, Meir Kahane degenerated into racism – his anti-Arab rhetoric conveyed an atavistic, biological, revulsion – a disgust deep in his bones that qualified him for the Racists’ Hall of Infamy.

The party of his heirs is a bit more cautious. Reading Otzma’s platform, I am convinced they are bigots – far too quick to play us-versus-them politics by demonizing Arabs. But it’s bigoted, not racist.

Bigotry – meaning prejudice – is bad enough. But to call a party racist its hate must be biologically based: in other words: less instrumental but deeper, more primitive, adding more incendiary dimensions to the debate.

MY OPPOSITION is anguished and conflicted. I am genetically programmed to like Netanyahu and even to have embraced Meir Kahane when young. I was born into a proud Revisionist family.

My father Dov Troy, headed the Zionist Betar group and its summer camp. He helped smuggle machine gun parts to those in the Irgun who were fighting to free palestine, almost sailed on the doomed ship Altalena, and raised us to detest David Ben-Gurion for firing on fellow Jews, and sinking the ship in 1948, laden with ammunition that the Jewish people needed to survive.

We were among the few Jews in New York who celebrated when Menachem Begin won in 1977 – we were among the few who even knew who he was.

Furthermore, l met Meir Kahane when I was an impressionable 14-year-old in 1975. He was the only celebrity visitor we ever hosted in our house.

One Saturday night, he attended a party at our home for the few precious hours he was allowed to leave his halfway house. He was smart, articulate, charismatic – with that celebrity glow that fame generates. Endorsing a Jewish parliament, he spoke powerfully about the Jewish establishment’s cowardice and cynicism.

I was old enough to understand that his criticisms were spot-on. But the snarl on his lips and the dark look in his eyes haunted me. They stood out as dramatically as his intelligence and eloquence. I knew that I was meeting a larger-than-life-character.

But I also knew that I was meeting a demagogic manipulator. That others couldn’t see this mystified me then – and terrifies me now.

Yes, there is a big bad Left. And yes there is a big bad Right. The existence of one doesn’t give moral absolution to the other to fight with no limits, to bash without truth, and to violate the fabric of trust which every society needs.

 In fact, leftists with integrity and rightists with honor should look at the sins of the other – and do whatever they can to remove the sinners in their midst, be they blatant racists like Kahane, or demagogues like Benjamin Netanyahu.

So far, Netanyahu has proven himself to be the biggest traitor among mainstream Israeli leaders this election – betraying democratic ideals, letting-down disappointed supporters, and double-crossing a country that could use his smarts, his strategy, his vision – but only if it could have been contained by some morality and leavened with some judgment.

Recently designated as one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released
The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, he is the author of ten books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.

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