Full disclosure: This was not the topic I had in mind for this week.
In fact, by late yesterday afternoon I was well into writing a column dealing with something completely different.
But then someone drew my attention to the “Letters to the Editor” section, which was awash with wrathful responses to last week’s Into the Fray column, “Loopy, loopier... Lapid,” which was sharply critical of Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.Hit a painful nerve?
It seems the column hit a painful nerve. Reliable rumors inform me that Lapid, enraged by my critique of him and, apparently believing that, unlike other politicians, he should be immune from censure, however well-founded, attempted to get The Jerusalem Post
to publicly distance itself from my views.
The paper, to its credit, held firm on its principled commitment to unfettered free speech and refused, suggesting that anyone miffed by the column was free to respond.
In what might be construed by some as excessive largesse in this regard, the Post
published four irate letters to the editor, heaping lavish praise on Lapid and leveling equally savage attacks on the column and on myself personally, denigrating my abilities as a columnist and disparaging my contribution (or lack thereof) to the country.
I should point out that publishing four readers’ letters on one column is extremely rare – indeed, almost unprecedented – especially if all express a monolithically identical perspective, excoriating a regular columnist of the paper, without a single dissenting view. This appears even more anomalous when one reviews the sentiments expressed in the talkbacks, which were overwhelmingly in favor of the column and/or critical of Lapid. Accordingly, the unusually large number of the Letters to the Editor published, and the largely uniform position they expressed, appear decidedly unrepresentative of the views of the Post’s overall readership.
I leave it to this readership to draw its own conclusions as to the reasons for the lopsided bias in publication of the letters, and as to whether the letters were the result of genuinely spontaneous ire of rank-and-file readers or, perhaps, actively solicited by Lapid or his party apparatus.
The raw bile
Sadly, constraints of space preclude me from providing the full text of the raw bile hurled at me by the four authors of the above mentioned letters. So, regrettably I will have to present an abbreviated version of each, and hope that I manage to adequately distill the major “ideas” (for want of a better word) conveyed by each. However, I urge readers to peruse the full text (available online at “Sherman gets personal” www.jpost.com/Opinion/September-30-Lostsouls- 419426
) to assure themselves that I have represented their intent / content with tolerable accuracy.
• Michal Slawny Cababia from Tzur Yitzhak laments: “My pre-holiday happiness and hope for a more appropriate tone and discourse in the new year was ruined by Martin Sherman’s rage-filled rant about Yair Lapid... God forbid a new, young leader should come forward and offer a vision of hope for our country? God forbid over the years his views could have changed as he studied the issue more and decided it best not to divide Jerusalem, and best to hold onto the major [settlement] blocs while also trying to pursue peace?... He is quickly becoming the alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offers no hope and no vision for the future.
“Mr. Sherman would be well to check his ego at the door and watch his words, as Israel might very well elect Lapid prime minister.”
• Gabriel Homa, Jerusalem, rails: “The demagoguery of Martin Sherman is the same display of fear mongering we’ve become used to lately, from both the writer and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.... Yair Lapid is a leader who is actually proposing a plan to ensure Israel’s security and its Jewish character.”
• Barry Spielman, Oranit, harangues: “It should not have come as a surprise to me when I went against my better judgment to read one of Martin Sherman’s predictable... rants. But I did, and I was stunned to see that even he would sink so low to pen such a vile diatribe against Yair Lapid...
“... it is unacceptable to stoop to such a shameful level, to use such language against a politician whose party represents a sizable amount of the population, as much as Sherman regrets it.”
“The writer calls Lapid arrogant.
“Who’s the arrogant one here? Who is he to be ranting against our democracy? Lapid demonstrated courage and vision in his Bar-Ilan speech, saying what many people in this country feel. It is more than legitimate to disagree with those positions... But it is not legitimate to defame people who are serving the public...
“It is wrong for Sherman to attack Lapid in this way, and it is wrong for The Jerusalem Post to allow it.”
• Doron Zieve, Netanya, bemoans: “I always read Martin Sherman’s columns, and although I find them shallow, they are by and large not personal. But his very personal attack on Yair Lapid was below the belt and not worthy of The Jerusalem Post.... Lapid has contributed more to Israel than Sherman has, whether one agrees with his views or not.... as an Israeli voter, I take exception to being told that my preference is for ‘gloss over gravitas and for sound bites over substance.’ Sherman, this is arrogance.
You remind me of my upbringing in southern Africa, where there was no respect for alternative views.
“Surely, Post columnists need to adhere to certain standards...
Some rapid random responses
It would take a tome to adequately rebuff the maelstrom of inane ad hominem attacks. This gives me little option but to leave some of them unanswered and to focus on a select few.
Some berate me for allegedly using excessively harsh language against Lapid – like (gasp) “arrogant.” It would seem that I am not alone at the Post in diagnosing this trait in him. Indeed, it was Post Senior Editor Lawrence Rifkin, who, ironically, handles the Letters to the Editor section, and wrote in a recent column: “MK Yair Lapid: Don’t wag your head when making a point. It makes you look even more arrogant than you are.”
Of course, the demand for civility is rich coming from folk who have no qualms about disparaging incumbent PM Netanyahu as a “fear monger” for pointing out tangible dangers; and who laud Lapid’s Bar-Ilan performance, which one seasoned political pundit characterized as “lambasting” Netanyahu, while the Post termed it “blasting” Netanyahu. In it, Lapid accused the elected PM of (heaven forfend) arrogance!!!
Anyone for pots calling kettles black?
True, I did reproach Lapid for “shameful myopia and shameless mendacity,” but that is no baseless charge. It is an easily demonstrable fact.Mendacious and manipulative
A galling example from the past: Lapid unscrupulously used his Friday column in the mass circulation Yediot Aharonot to build his political profile. He regularly exploited it to push positions later conceded to be mendacious manipulations.
Thus, on the eve of the disengagement (June 24, 2005), he published a caustic castigation of the opponents of unilateral withdrawal, He warned darkly of the dire consequences and the unbridgeable rift that would result if they succeeded in persuading the public that the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza should be aborted.
Menacingly, he declared that Israelis were tired of sacrificing their lives for the sake of the religious settlers and that for the majority in the country, disengagement “appeared to be the last chance for us to live a normal life.” However, barely a year later (October 13, 2006), when the catastrophic failure of the disengagement was apparent for all to see, Lapid published a breathtakingly brazen follow- up, titled, “Things we couldn’t say during disengagement.” In it he admitted it had all been a giant ploy: “It was never about the Palestinians, demography, the endeavor for peace, or the burden on the IDF.”
No, revealed Lapid, the real reason for deporting Jewish citizens and destroying Jewish towns and villages was to put the settlers in their place, to teach them “the limits of their power” and to show them who really calls the shots in this country.
See my point about “myopia and mendacity”?
Defrauding Yesh Atid voters as ‘vision’
My detractors applaud Lapid’s embrace of the Saudi Peace Initiative (API) as “a vision of hope for the country” and praise his mutually exclusive intention “not to divide Jerusalem, and... to hold onto the major [settlement] blocs while also trying to pursue peace.” If this were not so perilously preposterous, it would be comical.
There is no other way to interpret Lapid’s embrace of the API initiative except as a blatant defrauding of Yesh Atid voters. For every element of API clashes irreconcilably with Yesh Atid’s published security-political platform.
Thus, embracing one necessarily implies rejecting the other, which cannot but compel one to wonder if my detractors read either document before reaching for their poison pens.
In this regard, I read (Jerusalem Post, September, 30) with dismay and bewilderment that “Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid met with Saudi prince Turki bin Faisal Wednesday in New York, where they discussed Lapid’s peace initiative [which] includes adopting parts of the Arab Peace Initiative...”
Gee, I wonder what parts of API Lapid had in mind. After all, API has four crucial components: (1) Complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in the North; (2) Withdrawal to pre-1967 lines in Judea-Samaria and establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state on the evacuated territory; (3) Division of Jerusalem, with east Jerusalem as the capital of said Palestinian state; and (4) recognition of the “right-of-return” of the Palestinian- Arabs within the pre-1967 frontiers of Israel.
As Lapid’s platform explicitly opposes withdrawal in the Golan, rejects a return to the pre-1967 borders, negates division of Jerusalem, and rebuffs any notion of Palestinian-Arab’s “right of return,” one can only wonder what “parts” of API he finds acceptable?
Allow me to indulge just for an instant in some personal “pettiness.”
One of my disparagers, who does not know me from a “bar of soap,” has the temerity to allege that “Lapid has contributed more to Israel than Sherman.”
Well, I suppose that would depend on how you measure things. Lapid, as an able-bodied young man who engages regularly in martial arts, elected to do his military service in a noncombat role as a reporter for the IDF weekly. I, as an able-bodied man, who also once dabbled in the martial arts, elected to volunteer for a classified unit, whose combatants operated deep behind enemy lines (sometimes alone), and in which I served for about seven years. In recognition of my service, then-defense minister Shimon Peres wrote a dedication in a book of Alterman’s poems which he presented me: “In appreciation for your participation in one of the most brilliant and unsung operations of the IDF”; and then-PM Yitzhak Rabin inscribed in a dedication in an album of haunting photos of Jerusalem, which he handed to me: “To Martin, in recognition of your great achievement.” Two former heads of Mossad have written kind introductory words for two books I have written – one on international relations, the other on the Mideast water problem...
I could go on – but enough personal “pettiness.” Although I do wonder what contribution my detractor ascribes to Lapid. Perhaps reducing the cost of housing?
My challenge to Lapid
In a critique of Lapid I wrote two years ago, I warned, “Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is the most dangerous man in Israeli politics today, a good-looking, charismatic, overconfident fool, an affable ignoramus with no intellectual gravitas, devoid of moral principle, but with the gift of a silver tongue and the unmistakable – and largely undisguised – penchant for demagoguery and dictatorship.”
His embrace of API, with an excess of swagger and a deficit of knowledge, only reaffirms that diagnosis.
API is a perilous paradigm that severely undermines the security of the nation. It must be removed rapidly and resolutely from the agenda as a prospective policy prescription in any shape or form.
In coming columns, I will challenge its advocates – Lapid included – to reveal what borders they are willing to accept, what “comparable and mutually agreed minor” land swaps they are agreeable to, and how these will make the borders any more defensible, air-traffic at Ben-Gurion or land traffic on Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) any more secure...
I will challenge them – including Lapid – to put up or shut up.
I look forward with keen anticipation to the Letters to the Editor this column will elicit.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).