(photo credit: screenshot)
Entering the final weekend before Tuesday’s Knesset elections, it seems that Israeli politics has descended to new lows of decorum and decency. Instead of focusing on issues that affect us and explaining how they will make life better and safer with detailed platforms and intelligent public debate, many party leaders and Knesset candidates have resorted to either outrageous headline-seeking statements or populist attacks on their opponents in a simplistic, schoolyard exercise of name-calling.
In the former category we have shameful declarations like Avigdor Liberman’s calling for disloyal Arab citizens to be beheaded and the head of the Joint (Arab) List campaign team, Raja Zaetrah, comparing Israeli actions in the War of Independence to those of the brutal Islamist militia Islamic State.
Talk about classy campaigning! Those idiotic remarks could be chalked up to mindless rhetoric uttered in the heat of the battle.
But another campaign tactic – one that fuels daily discourse on social media and threatens to tear the country apart internally – is even more worrisome: the phenomenon of implying that a candidate’s views on how to achieve peace somehow put his allegiance to Israel and to Zionism in doubt.
Perhaps the most high-profile offender is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, sniffing panic at the possible termination of his six-year run at the helm of the country, has resorted to scare tactics in a desperate attempt to stave off the Likud’s nosedive.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman on Wednesday, Netanyahu warned that if Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni were handed the task of forming a coalition and were to enter the office of prime minister, it would be dangerous for the country, because “they can’t stand up for a millisecond. They have zero leadership. You will get prime ministers who completely prostrate themselves to any pressure.
Not only can’t they stand up to pressure, they don’t want to stand up to the pressure. They just want to yield and give in.”
Netanyahu would like to think that the Israeli public is gullible enough to think that veteran MKs and ministers who have proven track records in senior positions like Herzog and Livni would not put the best interest of the country at the forefront. Somehow, their desire to appease Western world leaders afar and Arab neighbors closer to home would cloud their judgment on the issues of keeping Israel secure. Thus, the conclusion is derived, they are not patriots.
The unhinged and unmonitored social media pundits pick up on views from the top like that, spewing venomous tweets and talkbacks that deride “traitors” like Herzog and Livni for daring to adopt the word “Zionist” in their party name – as if there’s only one way to be a Zionist. And we all know the once-unthinkable places such name-calling and inciteful behavior has led us to in the past.
The environment that has been created in which some right-wingers delegitimize any point of view that’s not theirs as anti-Zionist, at best, and a mortal danger to the country, at worst, has only served to widen the divide that is crippling Israeli society and has stifled open debate. Criticize their policies, grade their performances but don’t say they love Israel any less than you do because they regard settling the conflict with the Palestinians as imperative.
Speaking of debate, getting the leaders of the two main parties together for a televised debate before Election Day would have been so beneficial for voters. However, despite intimating before his campaign rally in Washington, DC, at the beginning of the month, that he would be willing to hold such a debate with Herzog and Livni upon his return, Netanyahu has preferred preying on voters’ fears with his aggressive attacks on his opponents, while refusing to meet with them.
Considering that he will probably end up sitting in a unity government with Herzog and Livni and even end up in a prime ministerial rotation with them, it might be wise for Netanyahu to change his tone before Tuesday. Otherwise, he might even find himself outside of that rotation.