Another Tack: Home of the bookless

Those whose memories extend all the way back to 1977 doubtlessly haven't forgotten all those David Levy jokes. How they mocked the upstart construction worker with no academic accomplishments but with that too-perfect hairdo, a dozen kids and enough pomposity to rival any of Menachem Begin's Polish mannerisms! The jokes weren't just in-crowd pleasantries. They were everywhere, even collected in books that soon became best-sellers. They were inane and often recycled antiquated barbs aimed in Israel's earlier days at Mapai powerbroker Yosef Almogi - a man renowned for his linguistic clumsiness and lack of erudition. However, the anti-Levy versions were crueler, immeasurably more infantile and infinitely more undeserved. They reflected more negatively on the intelligence of those who composed, circulated and enjoyed them than on their butt. Levy is now effectively out of Knesset politics for the first time in nearly four decades, but some of that wicked derisory repertoire used to knock him is back. Its latest victim is Moshe Kahlon - the backbencher first-term Knesset member promoted from near-anonymity to the Likud Knesset primary's No. 1. What a hoot. Kahlon, of Libyan extraction, cuts no less of a striking figure than Levy, only minus the oratorical flair and pathos. But what Kahlon lacks in bombast he makes up for in ostensible highbrow-deficiency. Before his meteoric climb in Likud ranks, he ran an auto-accessories dealership. Previous to that he worked as a rank car electrician. Kahlon's humble beginnings sufficed to inspire lots of laughter from Left field, where assorted salon-socialists supposedly dedicate themselves to the advancement of commoners just like him. Even more contemptuous chortles emanated from the Kadima crowd, which is set to inherit the Likud's popularity among non-Ashkenazim along with Labor's more sanctimonious social justice slogans. A MORE appropriate reaction would be to envy the Likud for its inherent democracy, which allows unknowns to rise overnight to prominence. The likes of Levy, Moshe Katsav or Meir Sheetrit couldn't have made it years ago on the Left. Nevertheless, Likud liberality isn't the whole or sole explanation for Kahlon's coup. The plain fact is that he benefited indirectly from Likud Central Committee dynamics. Omri Sharon crammed the committee full of his father's factional loyalists (whom he scornfully called "Indians" and some of whom boasted criminal records). They remained in the Likud as Trojan horses even after the elder Sharon's "big bang" departure from the party. They didn't conceal their intention to skew the Likud's internal electoral process. They severely punished the more outspoken of Sharon's disengagement opponents. That's how Levy was pushed out, as well as Ehud Yatom, Michael Ratzon and Ayoub Kara. Uzi Landau was too strong to be eliminated but he was demoted in the ranking. That was Sharon's residual vendetta. Kahlon was among the anti-Sharon "rebels," steadfastly resisting Kadima's political fleshpots dangled tantalizingly under his nose. Less laudable Likud backbenchers succumbed to temptation - like Ruhama Avraham and Eli Aflalo, whose joint parliamentary impact was nil but who managed to win the state comptroller's demerit for corruption. Yet although Kahlon stayed faithful to the platform which ushered him to the Knesset, he wasn't a notable ideologue and not in the vanguard of anti-disengagement battles. That meant he wasn't high on the Indians' hit list. Indeed, his low profile meant that he featured on no hit list. There was no reason not to vote for him. He was that unobjectionable. That enabled Kahlon to pull ahead even of the ministers, who made themselves exceedingly objectionable to diehard Herut ideologues. These ministers excelled inordinately in equivocating. They failed to preempt disengagement at the very outset, having grown too attached to their coveted portfolios. Their refusal to resign even on the eve of the primary wasn't a show of independence but of obtuseness. Their ministerial run was anyway almost over, so why undermine Binyamin Netanyahu, on whose success their political prospects depend? Such petty shenanigans didn't endear this self-seeking crew to Revisionist veterans. BENEFITING by default from the entire hullabaloo was lackluster Kahlon. But why does that make him the object of insipid satire? According to some conventional wisdom, such disparagement betrays Ashkenazi bigotry. Yet Avraham and Aflalo - immune from ridicule - aren't Ashkenazim either. Kahlon indeed surpasses them in academic credentials (a University of Haifa BA and a law degree). What sets them apart is the fact that Kahlon remains on the "wrong" political side - that which this country's opinion-making cliques despise. "Wrong side" affiliation earned Silvan Shalom's halting English much denigration during his stint as foreign minister, whereas Kadima starlet Tzipi Livni's considerably worse command of the world's lingua franca is obligingly overlooked. Compared to her, Silvan is the Bard of Avon. But it's not exclusively Tzipi's Ashkenazi origins that generate an assumption of excellence in her case. Labor's Moroccan-born leader Amir Peretz doesn't speak a stitch of English, yet that exposed him to nothing like what was dished at Levy or Silvan. It's the same bias that leads broadcasters to consistently introduce Yossi Beilin as "Dr. Beilin," while omitting Landau's or Yuval Steinitz's titles. Of course there's no evidence of an inextricable link between degrees and common sense, but the spin about the Likud being the home of bookless know-nothings is apparently effective. To make the slur stick it pays to avoid focusing on Likudnik intellectuals, but home in - with crude humor where possible - on the Likud's Kahlons, intimating that they represent the "great unwashed" and a priori presuming them to be unschooled, unsophisticated and unworthy.