Grumpy Old Man: Flip, flop and fly

Bibi can deny he’s a racist. Maybe he isn’t. But he’d better come to down to where there’s more oxygen if he doesn’t want to sound like one.

March 26, 2015 14:52
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during his victory speech at Likud headquarters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during his victory speech at Likud headquarters. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff, the seminal book on the Mercury astronauts, relates a tale in which backwoodsboy- cum-aviation-god Chuck Yeager is flying chase for a young test pilot who begins weaving erratically.

“As soon as he reached him on the radio, [Yeager] realized the man was suffering from hypoxia… Some pilots in that state became like belligerent drunks – prior to losing consciousness. Yeager would tell the man to check his oxygen system, he’d tell him to go to a lower altitude, and the man kept suggesting quaint anatomical impossibilities for Yeager to perform on himself.

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“So Yeager hit upon a ruse…. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘I got me a problem here, boy. I cain’t keep this thing running even on the emergency system. She just flamed out. Follow me down.’ He started descending, but his man stayed above him, still meandering.

So Yeager did a very un-Yeager-like thing. He yelled into the microphone. He yelled: ‘Look, my dedicated young scientist – follow me down!’

“The change in tone – Yeager yelling! – penetrated the man’s impacted hypoxic skull. My God! The fabled Yeager! He’s yelling – Yeager’s yelling! – to me for help! Jesus H. Christ! And he started following him down….”

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Well past half a century after the drama over Rogers Dry Lake, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in trouble half a world away. He was in trouble because the minions who were supposed to be flying chase for him were flying erratically.


So he hit upon a ruse of his own, and in the 11th hour of his campaign, on Election Day itself, the weaving, wavering multitudes saw and heard Bibi – usually full of swagger and as cool as a summer mojito in Havana – now weirdly agitated, almost dripping with sweat and practically screaming for help.

My God! The fabled Bibi! He’s yelling – Bibi’s yelling! – to me for help! Ribono shel olam! And they started following him down, down to their polling stations.

WHO KNOWS if Netanyahu or any of his strategists read The Right Stuff, or whether his frenzied bid for support is what really led to his stunning win. But the deal now, besides the almost certain agony of putting together a workable coalition, is for him to try and repair the damage.

His flip-flop (already a flip-flop-anda- half) on a Palestinian state was significant, but not all that important. Aside from the loony Left here and elsewhere in the world, most people appreciate that peace probably won’t be breaking out anytime soon, even if the Zionist Union were running the show. Besides, flip-flopping is a feature of campaigning everywhere. It’s expected. Like lying.

But Bibi’s slightly less than 30-second Election Day Facebook harangue was way over the top. Arabs “coming out in droves!” Leftists “busing them to the polling stations!” Strong stuff, that tirade. Arabs and leftists in one rant.

It was not a lie, at least the part about the Arab turnout – which is said to have been the highest it’s been in years, decades maybe. No, the trouble was, and remains, appearances.

In post-election interviews that Netanyahu and his associates gave to the media – especially the foreign press, where consumers include lots of political leaders who surely could not help but read pure and simple race-baiting into that diatribe – the matter had to be addressed.

How to do it? Why, tell them it was just a little electioneering. No big deal.

No harm intended, either.


But let’s try an exercise we often use to show how little the world seems moved by anti-Semitism, like when we proclaim how high it would jump in shock and distress if “African-American” or “Muslim” or “gay” were inserted as the targets of some of the more despicable comments made today about Israelis and Jews.

Imagine a mainstream candidate for high office in a highly developed Western nation telling his or her voters to race to the polling station – Bring your friends and family! – because members of this or that minority were voting in huge numbers. Not supporters of this or that party. Members of a minority.

Say it was US presidential candidate Mitt Romney feverishly exhorting Republicans to run to the polls because “African-American voters are coming out in droves!” Better yet, make it Jewish voters. It’s no secret that a large majority of Jews in America still vote Democrat.

Remember the statement by the Republican James Baker – “F**k them, they don’t vote for us anyway?” The expletive angered us Jews far less than the general sentiment (and it wasn’t even said in public). Imagine if Romney had resorted to such rhetoric during his hours of desperation back in 2012.

Of course, many of us here don’t see Bibi’s breathless blather as being quite tantamount to that. We brag how “our” Arabs not only vote, they stand for election! The country’s hospitals not only treat Arab patients, they employ Arab doctors! There are Arab university students and Arab professors! There are Arabs of high rank in the army! There are Arabs among our senior diplomats! There are Arab judges! One of them even sent our president to jail! When we’re done, we go back to sneering about them with loathing and contempt – and with no shortage of derision, using terms such as avoda aravit (Arab work) for a job that’s been performed in a slapdash, unsatisfactory fashion.

For much of the Jewish population, it’s a matter of course to speak this way.

They hate us, so what’s the big deal? And what’s the big deal about Bibi? It was only talk. Just like Avigdor Liberman’s “Off with their heads.” What’s to get excited about? Bibi could have gotten away with it if he had warned that there were “people” coming out in droves to topple rightwing rule. He could even have said “leftists.” After all, the traditional parties on the Israeli Left came out of these elections 10 Knesset seats stronger than they did in 2013. No one would fault him for that.

It’s the “Arab” part. And it’s the pathetic irresponsibility of having said it out loud.

Sure, the painter Meir Garboz said some terrible things, as did the playwright Joshua Sobol. While some of the things were true, they said them in a deliberately spiteful, hurtful way. Worse, they said them out loud. Remember, leftists are supposed to be more politically correct than everyone else.

But these two were not running for prime minister.

Plus, you can say the art created by Garboz and Sobol is not your cup of tea.

You can ignore them, boycott them and tell your friends to do the same.

But the prime minister? He might not be the leader of all the Jewish people, but he’s Israel’s leader. Like him or not, we can’t get away from that. We’re stuck with him.

BIBI CAN flip-flop all he wants about a Palestinian state, about settlements, about housing and other economic policies.

He can be all over the sky, high up in the thin, oxygen-starved air. But his bellicosity makes him come across more like a sly Jim Crow racist than just a belligerently hypoxic flyboy.

It took decades to get the UN to reverse its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. He might now say he regrets it, but it took our prime minister just under 30 seconds to make people everywhere start to reconsider.

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