It was George Orwell who taught us the value of newspeak, the big lie. Say something enough times, place it on the billboards and the TV, on the Internet and Facebook and what is fiction becomes believable, if only because it has been proclaimed and regurgitated so many times.
Give a politician seeking votes in the upcoming elections the opportunity to sell a message and he will do so, regardless of the gap between truth and fiction. If you respond on the same media outlets, you fall into the trap of transforming the topic into an even bigger public debate, which is exactly what the purveyor of the false information wanted in the first place. By the time you have checked out the facts, the elections have come and gone, the doubts have been raised for a sufficiently short period of time for you to grab those extra votes and if, later, the information you have publicized turns out to be false, well, it is too late.
There couldn’t have been a better example of this sort of electioneering newspeak than the Facebook site of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett. In a carefully planned video, posted just a few minutes after a visit to Ben-Gurion University last week, Bennett interviewed a second-year student and right-wing political activist at the university. Using a well-worn extremist right-wing mantra of recent years, Bennett used his Facebook site to make false statements about the university and its faculty as a means of advancing his own political agenda.
But what does it matter if the information was false? In today’s world of instant media, say or write whatever fiction serves your own personal or political agenda, and the chances are that there will always be plenty of people who will see it, like it, spread it, without bothering to check the facts.
Not surprisingly, the video attacked university professor Yosi Yonah of the Department of Education for his views. Yonah, who has been elected to a realistic slot on the Labor Party list headed by Isaac Herzog, represents a real threat to Bennett and other right-wing politicians. According to all polls, the Labor Party has a realistic opportunity of regaining power at the forthcoming elections in place of the extremism which is preached by Bennett and which has taken hold of the government in recent years.
Bennett’s new political stooge, Ronen Shoval, who made his name by heading up the right-wing Im Tirtzu movement, has spent most of his time attacking Ben-Gurion University by falsifying and misleading the general public about the educational and research activities of this prestigious institution.
It is the newspeak and lies which Im Tirtzu, Bennett and like-minded people have spread in recent years and their attempt to silence voices that do not toe their party line which have done such enormous international damage and harm to Israel’s reputation as a place of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Ironically, they have contributed more than any of those they attack to the strengthening of the BDS and boycott movements in their attempts to delegitimize Israel for its anti-democratic behavior – for which Bennett, Shoval and their allies provide them with plenty of ammunition.
Their attempt to portray themselves as the real patriots, the only Zionists left in the country, is so far removed from reality that they really couldn’t care less that Israel has become, thanks to them, increasingly isolated in a world which wasn’t over-friendly to begin with.
Their extremist right-wing policies, aimed at the formal annulment of the Oslo Accords, the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the attempt to legislate a stringent definition of Jewish citizenship would, if ever implemented, deal a death blow to Israel’s international reputation and would serve to break those few remaining ties of support with its most strategic partner, the USA – if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t already achieved that on their behalf.
What was once the pragmatism of the Mafdal is nowhere to be found in its Bayit Yehudi successor. Bennett has inherited institutions which were created by those who really knew how to build the bridges between religious and secular, without the artificial cosmetics of reserving spots for non-religious candidates. As long as the members of his party list are located on the extreme Right of the Israeli political spectrum, they are kosher for the Bayit Yehudi. They don’t have to have any other form of Jewish identity – religious or cultural – to fit into the political agenda of this onceproud centrist party.
They feed on the classic security fears of the Israeli people, attacking enemies from without and enemies from within.
According to them, there is no raison d’etre for Israel other than the survival instinct. They would happily silence the voices – of students, of faculty – of anyone who thinks differently to them and if they have to falsify information on the way, then that is totally acceptable to them.
Just as the earliest Zionists mistakenly believed that they could create a new Jewish identity through the image of the new secular Hebrew farmer divorced from their cultural and religious roots, so too Bennett believes that he can create a new Jewish identity through the means of a right-wing territorial irredentism and McCarthyism which, in the long term, will cause great damage to Israel’s security and image. The only difference between these two vastly contrasting and alternative visions is that the earliest Zionists, the vast majority of whom were secular, laid the foundation for the creation of the State of Israel and a Jewish Homeland, while Bennett and his right-wing allies are chipping away at these same foundations in a way which, if pursued much further, will bring about the eventual dismantlement of the state.
Bennett is right about one thing: that we don’t need to apologize.
We don’t need to apologize for being proud of Zionism (even if we interpret what it means to be a Zionist in very different ways).
We don’t need to apologize for desiring a Jewish state in its ancestral homeland in the face of those who would delegitimize us (even if we differ greatly about the rights to be given to another people living in the same territory).
But neither do we need to apologize for being proud liberal, pro-human rights, anti-occupation believers in a pragmatic Zionism which holds out the only long-term future for the State of Israel.
The Labor Party has finally woken up to the fact that Zionism and patriotism have been hijacked by the extremist right-wing ideologues and politicians during the past two decades. The reincarnation of the Labor party, headed by Herzog, is rightfully seeking to reclaim and regain the name of Zionism under its new identity, the Zionist Camp, as a far better alternative to the (ultra) Nationalist camp headed by Netanyahu, Bennett and their rightwing allies.
The newspeak and cheap sloganeering of Bennett, Shoval and their right-wing allies should not be allowed to divert us from what is really important for the future of the State of Israel.
The writer is dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.