Each Election Day means casting my ballot at "Yonatan" - the neighborhood junior high, my daughter's alma mater. It was named in memory of Yoni Netanyahu, who fell in the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation. A large portrait of the handsome young officer once dominated the school's entrance, when it was still inoffensive to honor a Netanyahu.
Yoni was revered as a hero until his brother Bibi became a potent political threat to the Left. Then, overnight, the deceased Yoni fell out of favor because of kinship to a viscerally reviled sibling. When the latter dared to sting the establishment and countermand its wishes by getting himself elected prime minister, punishment was visited upon Yoni's image. It began to be defaced with everything from chewed gum to left-wing political stickers.
On one of my subsequent Election Day returns to this wholesome educational environment, Yoni's photograph was gone altogether, banished to an out-of-the-way corner of the diminutive and woefully underused library in the very school that was supposed to commemorate his legacy.
It wasn't reinstated even after Bibi's 1999 defeat. Bibi remained a public enemy and our suburban gentry denied his late brother a reprieve - which goes to show that anyone's reputation is subject to vicissitudes entirely unrelated to his life.
His vilifiers might as well have called Bibi "Emmanuel Goldstein," Big Brother's arch-antagonist in George Orwell's 1984.
Goldstein's role as the "sole guardian of sanity in a world of lies" rendered him a renegade, regularly castigated on the official telescreen's daily "Two Minutes of Hate" feature. His very image evoked hisses and reactions of "mingled fear and disgust."
Just like Bibi.
"The sight or even thought of Goldstein produced alarm and anger automatically. He was the object of hatred more constant than" even the state's external foes. His words triggered "uncontrollable exclamations of rage" and were sufficient "to set one's teeth on edge and bristle the hair at the back of the neck."
Just as with Bibi.
THE RESEMBLANCE is hardly coincidental. True, Ehud Olmert is no Big Brother, but he's proficient in Newspeak - Big Brother's language, in which words denote the opposite of what's expected. That's why Olmert calls his projected retreat "convergence."
Olmert's manipulation of the media isn't insignificant. Most star scribblers and talking heads became his avid cheerleaders because he promised to expel 100,000 more settlers. The press deliberately overlooked colossal skeletons in his closet (exposed by Yoav Yitzhak and Aryeh Avneri).
Only a handful of Internet sites and two right-wing newspapers with negligible readerships treated Bibi's latest candidacy with any fairness. The rest was a concerted, constant barrage of bad-mouthing.
It grew trendy among the beautiful people to trash the Likud candidate, who, like Goldstein, became the primal source of "all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies and deviations."
Nobody listened to Netanyahu's desperate warnings about the existential dangers the Iran-Hamas axis poses on the outskirts of Israel's most central towns and strategic infrastructure. Our homes, airport, power stations and fuel depots are within rocket range from the Hamastan that "disengagement" helped spawn next door.
Olmert succeeded in denigrating bad Bibi as a scaremongering killjoy. "The Bibi is back," "The Bibi stayed the same Bibi," "You can't take the Bibi out of the Bibi," were the inane rejoinders to issue-driven campaigning. Resident court-jester journalists snickered, mimicked and amplified the derision.
IT BECAME expedient to beat Bibi and score political points - and not only for the Olmert crowd. Political rivals outside Kadima joined populist and demagogic Bibi-bashing. All who sought to bite off a bit of the Likud roundly attacked Netanyahu's resuscitation of the national economy.
In-house rivals didn't go out of their way to aid their own party's cause, but they did undermine Netanyahu's authority from the time they refused to let go their cabinet portfolios, to which they anyway couldn't hold on much longer. They surely didn't assume Bibi would rake in the votes when his own co-partisans evinced disloyalty and prepared to backstab him in anticipation of his downfall.
Even Netanyahu apparently began believing what was said about him. He no longer denied the calumnies but strove to convince us that he was a chastened man. He all but pled guilty till the last day of the race, when it was already too late.
Indeed, Netanyahu specialized in "too little, too late." His jitteriness facilitated disengagement and undermined his credibility. Had he unambiguously opposed disengagement from the get-go, he might have mobilized public opinion against what the majority of dumbfounded Israelis eventually succumbed to because Likudniks behaved like wimps. They let disengagement grow till it was too big to chop down. It could have been nipped in the bud.
By resigning late, Netanyahu allowed Sharon and Olmert to defame him as a turncoat. Actually he should never have become finance minister. This thankless job, no matter how he excelled at it, is tantamount to political suicide.
BIBI'S ORIGINAL sin, of course, was relinquishing the Likud nomination to Ariel Sharon in 2001. From that point on there was almost no political mistake Netanyahu managed to avoid.
Nevertheless, like Goldstein, he was tendentiously portrayed as "some sinister enchanter" and "every day, and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed and ridiculed."
I knew Netanyahu's cause was hopeless when I last went to vote at Yonatan. There, where Yoni's likeness had once hung, a mini-portrait gallery of all Israel's presidents and premiers was displayed.
Bibi's photo alone was absent. Presumably it was as non grata as that of fallen hero Yoni, and as arbitrarily expunged from the record.