Menachem and Aliza Begin vote in the national election on May 17, 1977.
(photo credit: YAACOV SAAR/GPO)
The period between Tisha Be’av and Tu Be’av – from mourning the loss of the Temples to celebrating courtship and love – is a fitting time to exercise restraint in our political discourse. At the very least, Likud ministers and party strongmen must stop publicly insulting their colleagues.
While a democracy’s parliament is by definition an arena for debate, Israel’s elected representatives must learn to express their divergent views in a more civilized manner. No one can reasonably argue that personal insults are a constructive way to carry out the responsibilities of lawmaking.
Examples of bad behavior unfortunately abound, but recent weeks have witnessed a new height in lowness of expression. A case in point is the opinion expressed by former IDF chief of staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz, who last week called Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Likud coalition chairman David Bitan “monkeys.”
He was responding to outrageous personal insults against Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Nadav Argaman by the notoriously outspoken pair. Regev called Argaman “delusional” and Bitan called him “a coward” for agreeing to remove metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount.
Bitan made room in his mouth for another foot by declaring that, had Argaman led the Shin Bet in 1976, he would have nixed the Entebbe rescue operation.
Halutz, for his part, told Army Radio, “These people simply don’t understand that they have the ability to say such things because of those they call delusional cowards. Darwin says man evolved from monkeys. In Israeli public life, there are too many people who haven’t completed the process.”
Bitan thoughtfully responded by calling Halutz “the IDF’s most failed and arrogant chief of staff” and accused him of racism. “Halutz’s arrogance made him run the IDF poorly, and he never knew how to take criticism,” Regev added. “Halutz has joined a long line of people who have called those who think differently from them monkeys and herds of beasts.”
This enlightening exchange evoked a comment by another former IDF chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, who called the behavior of MKs Bitan and Miki Zohar “shameful” during a Knesset session that Likud lawmakers punctuated by yelling at families of slain soldiers.
The screaming match between the two Likud stalwarts, Ya’alon told a packed audience in Ganei Tikva last week, followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emotional confrontation with bereaved families who lost loved ones in the Gaza war of 2014 and who criticized the government and his conduct during the operation.
Bitan, speaking to the plenum, called the father of Sgt. Sagi Erez, 19, who was killed along with four comrades by Hamas tunneling terrorists, “a liar.”
“We have a discourse of polarization,” Ya’alon lamented. “I do not know whether social media are to blame, where one is not responsible for what one says, but the politicians are exploiting [this behavior] to get more ‘likes.’ Explaining the complexity of what is happening in Gaza is not about getting ‘likes,’ and [such behavior reflects] the politicians’ lack of responsibility,” he added.
Bitan is perhaps the champion insulter for today’s Likud. His pearls of wisdom include saying that Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was not a political murder, that the media are too free, and that he would prefer if fewer Israeli Arabs exercised their right to vote.
The founder of the Likud, Menachem Begin, could be imagined spinning in his grave at the deterioration of his parliamentary legacy at the hands of Bitan and Regev. As acerbic a debater as ever addressed the Knesset, Begin was also known for his dignity and public decorum. As fervently as he believed in the heritage of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, he would never call a longstanding opponent by name, but would simply refer to “the gentleman sitting next to” another prominent figure.
Begin above all was a democrat who championed Israel’s role as the only democracy in the Middle East, but did so respectfully and with civility. It’s time the current members of the Likud learn from their former leader.