A nation turns its lonely eyes to Yair Golan - analysis

Maj.-Gen. (res) Yair Golan - the former deputy chief of staff who just recently left the IDF when he was passed off for the top job in favor of Aviv Kochavi - is the new flavor of the month.

June 6, 2019 02:33
3 minute read.
IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan delivers remarks at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak

IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan delivers remarks at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak. (photo credit: ASSAF SHILO / ISRAEL SUN)

Just in time for the September 17 general election, Israel has a new flavor of the month: Yair Golan.

That’s right, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yair Golan, the former deputy chief of staff who just recently left the IDF when he was passed over for the top job in favor of Aviv Kochavi.

Though only out of uniform for a matter of months, he is eligible – as is just retired former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot – to run in the next elections because the cooling off period for senior security personnel is three years or one Knesset election, whichever comes first.

The framers of that law probably did not envision that the country would hold back-to-back elections five months apart.

Last Thursday, just hours after the Knesset dissolved itself, Golan was already the subject of breathless speculation, with the anchors of one of the country’s leading political programs on the radio asking whether he will jump into the political fire, and if he does, into which pot.

Will he join the Labor Party, and contest for its leadership, or perhaps join the Blue and White Party, already heavily laden with ex-generals?

Eisenkot has made no murmur indicating that he is interested, but Golan is a different story, and he himself got on the phone and told the interviewers that he had not yet decided, but would be making up his mind soon.

And so it begins anew: the search for that politically untested military man who will ride in on his white horse and provide the electorate with that special je ne sais quoi that all the other candidates on all the other lists have so far failed to provide.

Or, as Simon & Garfunkel put it in their iconic song, “Mrs. Robinson”: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Israel, before every election, turns its eyes not to baseball legends like DiMaggio, but rather to generals who they hope can sweep in out of nowhere – or, rather, out of the IDF general command – and save the day.

Think Yitzhak Mordechai. Think Ehud Barak. Think Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Think Amram Mitzna. Think Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi.

Less than two months after Gantz and Ashkenazi were elected to the Knesset, the public – judging by the media attention now focused on Golan – has had enough, and is seeking somebody else. Gantz and Ashkenazi, it seems, are already yesterday’s flavor.

Just seven months ago all the reporting was about whether Gantz would run, and who he would run with, and whether Ashkenazi, Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid would join up with him. He ran with them all. So now what is the country asking? Is Golan going to run against him (or perhaps with him)?

How quickly do the subjects of our attentions change.

There is one significant difference between the Gantz and Golan phenomena. When Gantz joined the fray last year and took the plunge into politics, people really did not have a clue where he stood on the major issues of the day. Was he Left? Was he Right? What did he think about a two-state solution?

No one really knew, but then, it really didn’t even matter. Gantz did tremendously in the polls before he even opened up his mouth. In fact, he did tremendously well in the polls because he did not open up his mouth. He was tall, good looking and someone who people could imagine – because they really didn’t know where he stood on the issues – stood exactly where they did.

Gantz’s polling numbers began to fall when he started to open his mouth. Understandably. He no longer was this empty vessel into which everyone could pour their own ideas. He actually had opinions of his own, and sometimes they did not square with theirs.

Golan is not, however, an empty vessel. The public has heard him express himself on issues of the day, most specifically when he triggered controversy by saying at a 2016 Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony that “It’s scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here.”

The new fascination with Golan says much about the recent fascination with Gantz: in politics in this country nothing lasts forever, or even for two months. The excitement that Gantz engendered has faded, and a confused nation – or part of it – is now turning its eyes toward the country’s next version of Joe DiMaggio, appearing today in the form of Yair Golan.

At least until the next election that will follow the upcoming one.

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