Middle Israel: Yuli Edelstein’s fatal mistake

Don’t you see the resemblance between this election-cancellation ploy and the one that was just attempted in Istanbul, only to backfire in its authoritarian mastermind’s face?

June 27, 2019 21:34
Yuli Edelstein

Yuli Edelstein. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Heroism brings to mind sacrifice, principle and violence, but few would link it to linguistics. Even so, the Ukrainian town of Czernowitz did just that, twice:

First, in its Habsburg era, when it produced Itzik Manger, whose Yiddish poetry – both in Europe, where it was murdered, and in Israel, where it was buried – defied his mother tongue’s death.

Then, in the city’s Soviet era, a local couple of linguists bred Yuli Edelstein, whose resolve to learn and teach Hebrew resulted in repeated encounters with the KGB – until he was whisked to the Siberian Gulag where he nearly died, before reaching Israel, where the liberated Prisoner of Zion launched the inspiring political career that this week slid to the low ebb where it should have never reached.

SPEAKING A rich and accurate Hebrew, which is better than that of most native Israelis, Edelstein became an emblem of the Russian-speaking immigration’s diligence, skill and success. His entry into politics in 1996 alongside Natan Sharansky reflected genuine concern for other immigrants’ hardships, and a true quest to help them make it in their old-new land.

The two did as they promised, first through their own party, and then when they merged it with the Likud in 2003, rightly declaring that the immigrants no longer need a party of their own.

It was an attitude that starkly contrasted with the power hunger that drove another post-Soviet politician, Avigdor Liberman, who lacked the two’s heroic past, and also the modesty that prevented them from eyeing the prime minister’s seat.

The same modesty and sense of national responsibility made Sharansky happily assume the relatively marginal position of Jewish Agency chairman, and Edelstein the speakership of the Knesset. It was the inversion of the raw ambition with which Liberman would shake Israel’s political foundations, once he smelled Benjamin Netanyahu’s political blood.

It was in this setting that Edelstein’s career would be tested from the perspective of audacity’s inversion – blind loyalty: the uncritical obedience that once was his antithesis, but now would put his heroic past to shame.

The first major mistake in the speaker’s 23-year-old political career came as he emerged this week at the center of an effort to undo the Knesset’s decision this month to dissolve, a mere six weeks after having been elected.

Yes, the idea of back-to-back elections was preposterous, as this column made plain upon its legislation. However, having been made law in three readings, there can be no reversing it, least of all by the very people who initiated it in the first place.

Such an about-face would destroy this sorry Knesset’s credibility.

EDELSTEIN AND Netanyahu make it sound as though the idea came from the speaker, while the prime minister, in “considering the idea of annulling the early election,” is merely responding to someone else’s thought. That may or may not be true, but supposing it’s true, the question to Edelstein is this:

If you think now that maneuvering the country into this election was a bad idea, where were you when your party and its leader made it happen? It’s been less than a month since you voted for this political atrocity. Why didn’t you vote against it when it was legislated?

What happened in the interim that makes you now oppose what less than a month ago you backed? The only common denominator between the two choices is that each in its turn has been a reflection not of the public’s quest, as you now claim, but of your master’s whim.

May we therefore suspect that what happened is that your boss learned he might lose ground in the unnatural election he brewed, and is now out – yet again – to abuse the political process for the sake of momentary circumstances, partisan plots and personal gain?

What a shame, Yuli, that you of all people have slid from the moral peak of a prisoner of conscience to the opportunistic nadir of a judicial renegade’s aide.

The problem, in this regard, lies neither in the substance of the allegations nor in the state of the legal process that Netanyahu has come to face. The problem lies in his defamation of the Israeli legal system – which you, as someone who once was victimized by a truly evil judiciary, should be the first to defend.

Your landsman Itzik Manger, in caricaturing the Book of Esther’s plot, described Mordecai overhearing, “through a window, a terrible thing / the king’s guards, Bigsan and Teresh, saying / ‘To hell with our stupid king!’”

Is this what you – in joining Netanyahu’s machinations – are also now implying about Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, and former Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich? That they, too, conspired against the king? Shouldn’t you now be the one to come out and say to the people, precisely because you speak from within Netanyahu’s fold, that the attorneys, the judges and the investigators – certainly the ones Netanyahu himself appointed – are professional and impartial?

Don’t you see the resemblance between this election-cancellation ploy and the one that was just attempted in Istanbul, only to backfire in its authoritarian mastermind’s face?

As things currently stand, you are where the biblical Mordecai was when he “charmed his way in to the king,” as Manger put it, while portraying him as the stereotypical shtadlan, the Diaspora lobbyist who courted ridicule, represented fear and manipulated power rather than wield it.

You did not endure what you endured, Yuli Edelstein, in order to be a power abuser’s stooge. You stood up for principles in the past, and you are expected to do so again today. It’s not too late for you to tell Bibi what singer Netta Barzilai told another abuser: “I’m not your toy.”

The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.

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