Media Comment: Fascists, communists and traitors

Israel’s Left did not like the First Lebanon war that began in 1982. They claimed that it was unnecessary, excessive and harmful to Israel.

Zeev Elkin 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Zeev Elkin 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israel’s Left did not like the First Lebanon war that began in 1982. They claimed that it was unnecessary, excessive and harmful to Israel.
As part of their democratic right to freedom of speech, they hurled very strong epithets at Israel’s leaders at the time, prime minister Menachem Begin and defense minister Ariel Sharon. A picture that stands out and perhaps should never be forgotten is that of the Left displaying placards at their demonstrations as well as shouting organized chants with the slogan – “Begin is a murderer.” The left-wing leadership did not speak out against the use of such slurs.
Israel’s right wing learned that it was acceptable to use such language.
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres were often, unfortunately, called traitors during the first two years following the signing of the Oslo Accords with the PLO and Yasser Arafat. The Right claimed that their actions were a knife in Israel’s back and the resurrection of a terrorist organization.
Israel’s secret service also stepped into the fray by using its agent provocateur Avishai Raviv to distribute and exhibits placards of Rabin in an SS uniform.
And then Rabin was assassinated.
Binyamin Netanyahu, who was shortly thereafter elected prime minister, was harshly criticized by our media, although he took pains to disassociate himself from the “traitor chant” in every demonstration in which he participated.
He would lecture the crowd, explaining that there were deep differences of opinion but that prime minister Rabin was doing what he believed was in the best interests of Israel.
In the aftermath of the assassination of Rabin, and the soul-searching that came with it, there was hope that something might have been learned, that words can kill and that the hallowed democratic principle of freedom of speech does not justify incitement.
The disengagement from the Gaza Strip was a critical trial of whether the lesson had been learned. Even though prime minister Sharon reneged on his election promises and platform, even though he did not honor fundamental democratic principles such as abiding by the majority vote of the Likud against the disengagement, the demonstrations against him were muted. Words such as “traitor” were not used.
When some demonstrators attempted to use World War II-era symbols such the yellow Star of David, they were harshly criticized by our media and these attempts were stopped. The leaders of the movement against Sharon made sure that although the demonstrations were forceful, they would not cross red lines and there would be no usage of inciting slogans. Any references to the Nazi era were not tolerated.
But has the lesson really been learned? Consider what happened in our media in the aftermath of the recent Likud primary.
In the leadership race between Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Sa’ar won handily. He came in first place while Steinitz was only in 15th, one below Moshe Feiglin. Sa’ar was consistent in his support of Israel’s right to settle everywhere in Israel and was against the two-state solution.
Steinitz kept rather mum on these issues. Likud MKs Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin led the attempts to limit the authority of the Supreme Court and prevent foreign governments funding Israeli NGOs. They came in 5th, 8th and 9th, respectively.
Not surprisingly, Israel’s Left attacked, and the media was its vehicle. One might expect that if Netanyahu is reelected, the Likud’s policies against the two-state solution and its attempts to replace the ruling left-wing elites in the judicial and other spheres will be stronger and perhaps more effective than during the past four years. Indeed, attempts to clarify the differences between conservative and liberal and to counter the misuse of the word “centrist” by all political parties are desperately needed. The voter should know what she or he is voting for and should not be conned by words.
But is this what really happened? MK Elkin created a clip titled “Elkin-style” which received over 350,000 views. The clip accentuates Elkin’s leadership in the Knesset.
On Sharon Gal’s Economic Evening program of November 26, TV channel 10’s political commentator Emanuel Rosen had the following to say in the aftermath of the Likud primary and the successful clip: “It is no longer Feiglin, it is Danny Danon, it is Elkin, whose election clip ‘Elkin-style,’ don’t know if you saw it, is an absolutely fascist clip.”
His use of the word “fascist” was not a one-time affair. In the same show he added: “I believe that Naftali Bennett reflects a new romanticism in the Right and it could be that this romanticism is not reflected in what I call people with fascist tendencies such as Ze’ev Elkin and Danny Danon. I think one likes the atmosphere of the National Religious Party [Habayit Hayehudi] more than the fascist atmosphere, it [the NRP’s] is a legitimate atmosphere of the Right which one can be for or against, but it certainly is not fascist.”
Rosen set the tone, and Haaretz readily adopted it. It used cartoons to depict Elkin as a fascist. The message is clear: The new Likud leadership is fascist, with World War II connotations, for in Italy, the word fascist is the equivalent of the word Nazi in Germany. The Left does not hesitate to resort to its old tactics.
This kind of response is especially glaring when one compares the reactions to the Labor party primary.
Meirav Michaeli, No. 5 in the list, was described by Ynet as the big victor in this primary. She is of a rather dubious background.
In response to the Gilad Schalit saga, she publicly pronounced that mothers should not send their children to serve in the Israeli army, with no uproar. Other notable new faces in the Labor party were Ms. Stav Shaffir (9th place), whose leadership role in the “social protests” could be described as a fallback to the communist- era vernacular, as well as her fellow leader Itzik Shmuli (12th place).
It is very clear that the new leadership of the Labor party has a strong liberal left-wing social character, which arguably could lend itself to being described as almost communist. The message of taxation of the rich, increasing the state deficit to overcome perceived social injustice is not that far away.
In real life, Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich grew up in a pro-communist home and in 1996, voted for the Maki Communist- Balad list. Yet, the response to the Labor party primary differed substantially from the response to the Likud primary. Justifiably, none of the reporters, commentators or politicians used inciting epithets such as “Communist.” At most they pointed out the differences between the Labor party’s socialist attitude and the Likud’s capitalist one. But the Right is considered to be “fascist.”
Israel’s left-wing media is using the old fashioned but well know method of delegitimizing its competitor and inserting into the mass media such terms so as to dominate the “conversation.” It seemingly has learned nothing from the assassination of Rabin and is willing to employ character assassination of those it does not like.
It is not only sad, but harmful to the cause of the Left. At the end of the day, the Israeli voter will distance himself from those who instead of responding to challenges prefer to run away from them and use cowardly methods.

The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (