From Begin’s tchach-tchachim to Bibi’s bots - analysis

Likud has a long history of milking opponents’ insults for more votes.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks in front of a poster depicting the late prime minister Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv in 2010 (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks in front of a poster depicting the late prime minister Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv in 2010
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
“First they called us tchah-tchahim, then they called us riffraff, mezuzah-kissers, and now they call us bots,” has been Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refrain since the news report about a supposed social media network of fake accounts supporting him and the Likud was published on Monday.
Some have compared Netanyahu turning around the accusation to US President Donald Trump emphasizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “deplorables” to describe half of his supporters.
But the Likud has a long history on capitalizing on name-calling – that is, the insulting names that its opponents call it.
The most famous incident is former prime minister – and the first from the Likud – Menachem Begin’s “Tchach-tchachim Speech.”
In June 1981, before the elections for the 10th Knesset, comedian Dudu Topaz had spoken at a rally for Labor predecessor the Alignment, and Begin saw an opportunity.
Speaking in Tel Aviv’s Kings of Israel Square, now known as Rabin Square, Begin said: “Last night, before 100,000 people of the Alignment, he said the following things: ‘The tchah-tchahim are the ones in Metsudat Ze’ev.’”
Metsudat Ze’ev is Likud headquarters and tchah-tchahim, more importantly, is a slur used at the time against Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.
“‘They barely do guard duty,’” Begin quoting Topaz continued. “‘Here... are the soldiers and the commanders of combat units.’”
Boos could be heard from the Likud crowd, as Begin wagged his finger as if to say “No, no, no.”
“I’ll admit to you, until this morning, I never heard the word ‘tchah-tchahim,’ and I didn’t know what it meant,” Begin said, as eventual Likud minister and fighter against anti-Mizrahi racism David Levy laughed behind him, and the crowd chanted Begin’s name.
Begin continued, mangling Topaz’s name – some say intentionally, to belittle him – and calling his comments “foolish and bad spirited,” saying that the Alignment crowd cheered for him.
Then, he referred to a fighter in the Irgun, the underground militia Begin commanded during the British Mandate, who blew himself up in Jerusalem’s Central Prison together with a fighter from the Lehi rather than be hanged by the British.
“[Meir] Feinstein was of European origin. What do you call him – Ashkenazi. [Moshe] Barazani was Sephardic from Iraq,” he said.
“Ashkenazi, Iraqi, Jews! Brothers! Fighters!” Begin concluded.
Ten days later, Begin’s Likud narrowly won the election, after having polled behind Shimon Peres’s Alignment throughout the campaign.
Since then, the various permutations of the Labor Party have had the same bad luck with celebrities speaking at their events.
In 1999, actress Tiki Dayan called Likud and Netanyahu voters “riffraff from the market.” Likud put together a campaign ad juxtaposing her comment with then-prime ministerial candidate Ehud Barak laughing, to make it look like that was his reaction to her. And they printed bumper stickers – a popular campaign tool in the pre-social media era – that said “I am proud to be riffraff.” Barak still won, but as Netanyahu’s remarks this week show, Dayan’s campaign contribution has had a long shelf life.
In the last election in 2015, sculptor Yair Garbuz was put in the symbolic 102nd place on the Zionist Union list. At a rally for the Labor-led bloc, once again in Rabin Square, Garbuz described the opposing political camp as “thieves taking bribes... the piggish hedonistic corrupt ones... kissing good luck charms, worshiping idols and bowing and prostrating themselves on the graves of saints... sexual harassers and rapists.”
Although technically Garbuz didn’t mention mezuzahs, the speech became known as one where he mocked “mezuzah-kissers.”
Then-Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog later said that the comments hurt the party at the polls. Netanyahu’s Likud won the last election by a landslide.
And now we have the bots.
Acclaimed journalist Ronen Bergman reported about a network of hundreds of fake social media accounts advocating for Netanyahu, in an exposé in Yediot Aharonot and The New York Times hours earlier – but most of the examples cited in the story have since spoken up as real people who said they are not officially affiliated with the Likud or the prime minister in any way, except that they are supporters.
The Likud’s immediate response has been to highlight those people who came forward as the “bots,” and to accuse the opposing camp – which includes the press, since Netanyahu has long painted much of the media as leftist – of dehumanizing Likud voters.
“Good evening bots! They say you’re unable to think for yourselves,” Netanyahu opened a speech on Tuesday night. “The bots need to come to the voting booths en masse.”
Will this tactic work for the Likud again? We’ll find out Tuesday.