The magic touch: A charm or a curse for Israeli politics?

Peretz met with Kabbalist to discuss failed Lebanon war.

crystal ball 88 (photo credit: )
crystal ball 88
(photo credit: )
Should the Prime Minister's Office include a bureau of astrology? Would Israel have done better in last summer's war in Lebanon if the defense minister had conferred with Kabbalists? Nancy Reagan conjured up a storm of controversy during the 1980s when it was revealed that astrologers had visited her in the White House and imparted advice that she might have then used to counsel her husband. But Mrs. Reagan's sessions were no match for the magical tools that have been used, or should be, by Israel's politicians, according to some of the participants in a conference held Thursday at the Hebrew University on "Magic, Mystery and Witchcraft." Topics addressed by leading university academics included "Jesus the Magician" and "The New Age: The Secret of Harry Potter's Success." But the conference's final session featured participants discussing "Magic and Politics"; the theme was the role magic plays on Israel's political scene. Former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) acknowledged the ways in which his party has routinely used "magical elements" such as prayers and curses during elections, ever since the party's founding, and others said secular politicians also made magic a part of their day-to-day decision-making process. Hebrew University Prof. Moshe Idel opened the panel by relating how, several years ago, he was asked to attend a Knesset committee meeting on astrology. "At first I could not understand why I was there really, but soon I learned that hundreds of political figures, [including] many, many prime ministers all over the world, regularly use astrologers in their decision-making processes," said Idel. "When the prime minister decided to go to war last summer, what's to say that among other advisers he consulted there shouldn't have been someone involved in less traditional methods?" Rabbi Isaac Batzri, whose father, Rabbi David Batzri, is a world-renowned Kabbalist, couldn't have agreed more with Idel's recommendation for the second Lebanon war. In fact, he told the panel that Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with him and his father recently to discuss IDF operations. "Actually we told him that the dates he chose for the operation had been completely unsuitable for the war, so it was not surprising how we fared," said Batzri. "If [Peretz] had met with us before the war, we could have told him that in the Jewish faith there are days for everything." Batzri's words upset many in the audience, who saw it as a sign of religious pressure to use traditional Jewish mysticism in making political decisions. Afterward, Batzri was surrounded by half a dozen audience members who wanted him to reveal the defense minister's reaction to their meeting. Israel Segal, a long-time Israeli news commentator, pointed to Batzri's story as an example of "everything that is wrong" with Israel's current political leadership. "It pains me to say that magic, or spiritual elements, should be separated from the political world. But why should we take our holiest beliefs and 'sell' them? And for what? To get into the Knesset?" asked Segal. Segal's comments were primarily directed at Shas, whose spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has often been criticized for using his religious popularity to attract voters to the party. In the past, the party has also been accused of selling prayers and granting blessing in exchange for votes.