Israeli political discourse is at an all-time low - editorial

Like a bad reality TV show, some of our elected representatives have lost all perspective of what being a public official entails.

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes it seems as if the level of discourse in Israeli politics has reached a nadir, and then something happens that breaks new ground.

Like a bad reality TV show in which insults and personal attacks are a means to gain higher ratings and notoriety, some of our elected representatives have lost all perspective of what being a public official entails.

The latest travesty comes off like a particularly seedy soap opera. Last week, a previously unknown man named Yossi Kamisa, who claimed to have once been an aide to now-Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, said that some 20 years ago, Liberman offered to pay him $100,000 to murder a senior Israel Police officer.

Liberman, obviously, denied the claim, but then went further and accused opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of being behind it. Liberman charged that it was part of a smear campaign to distract attention from an official warning letter the former prime minister had received from the Meron Disaster Commission of Inquiry.

Calling it the “Netanyahu method,” Liberman called the former prime minister, formerly his boss, “the scum of the Earth.” 

In response, the Likud denied any connection between Netanyahu and Kamisa’s allegations and wrote that it “hopes that ‘national inciter’ Liberman won’t pay $100,000 for someone to assassinate Netanyahu.”

“Liberman can stop hallucinating,” the party added. “The Likud and Netanyahu have nothing to do with the allegations made against him.”

If this discourse doesn’t sound as if it has taken place between balanced, cultured members of a developed political class who have been charged with running the affairs a progressive country, that’s because it isn’t. We are not that sort of country, no matter how much we would like to believe that we are.

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman seen after negotiation meeting at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, August 31, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman seen after negotiation meeting at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, August 31, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Likud took one step too far with Liberman assassination jab

There’s so much to unpack in this sorry saga, but let’s start with the tone-deaf comment about assassination. Ever since Yigal Amir gunned down prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, it’s beyond the pale to bring up the possible assassination of a political rival, not even in jest. 

To suggest, even in order to score political points, that Liberman would consider paying someone to assassinate Netanyahu goes beyond all political norms.

Likewise, for a serving Israeli minister to call a former prime minister the “scum of the Earth” also crosses all boundaries of political discourse even further.

With the myriad of critical issues facing Israel, to have a former prime minister and a current finance minister engage in such despicable mudslinging is an affront to the country and its citizens.

An Iran nuclear deal is forthcoming, housing prices are out of control, the country is one big traffic-jammed parking lot, the rate of terrorist attacks against Israelis is approaching Intifada-like levels, and this is what our elected officials are bickering about and accusing each other of?

Still embroiled in political crises

Let’s not forget that we’re still two months away from a fifth election within a two-year period. That is never a sign of a healthy democracy.

If this is what candidates for the next Knesset and government are occupying their time with now, imagine how much worse it will be as we near election day.

As much as we would hope that all the candidates running in November would turn their attention to the issues at hand and provide their platforms showing how Israel is going to confront its serious security and domestic challenges, it appears as if that’s not going to happen.

Instead, we’re likely going to be faced with more character assassination from both sides of the political divide. The cult of personality has taken over Israeli politics and there appears to be no turning back.

Netanyahu and Liberman are not the only culprits, they’re only the most recent and most offensive.

Before Israel turns into an international laughing stock – a trend propelled by our revolving door series of elections – it would be wise for all candidates to think twice before spouting forth a conspiracy theory that could be slanderous or potentially prompt an unstable person to commit a violent act.

Words can do damage – and as Israelis have learned the hard way, sometimes they kill.