Middle Israel: Tips for Bibi

Netanyahu's new status as this election season's universal punching bag makes me nauseous.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Bibi: As one who during your premiership (has it been a decade?) was as critical of you as much of the rest of the country, I now want to tell you that your new status as this election season's universal punching bag makes me nauseous. You don't deserve it, and your detractors can be made to pay for creating it. Here is how. * Preach your economics. Mofaz, Shalom and Amir Peretz are having a great time blaming you for "the economic situation." The only problem is that the economic situation is actually good. As your predecessor at the Treasury, Shalom consciously expanded the deficit and inflated the shekel, procrastinated with tax cuts and stalled structural reforms. You launched a massive reform package upon your arrival at the Treasury and it quickly bore fruit. The recession Shalom bequeathed you - Israel's worst ever - has since given way to a 5.1% growth rate - the developed world's highest; unemployment plunged from 10.9% to 8.9%; 170,000 new jobs were added to the economy; the shekel has been solid even in the face of a global oil crunch; and inflation remains among the world's lowest. Meanwhile, you delivered the structural reforms you had not delivered as prime minister, from slashing social allowances, de-unionizing the pension funds and selling El Al, to de-monopolizing the seaports, ending the banks' overbearing presence in the financial markets, and shedding Leumi and Discount banks. All this is impressive by any yardstick, both for its substance and for its scope, and should be the crux of your campaign, for two reasons: First, it undoes your previous image as a can't-do talker, and secondly, Middle Israelis are very pleased with what you did as treasurer. The best proof of that is Avishay Braverman's very debatable insistence that Amir Peretz is "no communist, but a Tony Blair." If I read him correctly, the outgoing Ben-Gurion University president is trying to assuage that electoral critical mass that actually appreciates your reforms by telling them that just as Blair did not undo Thatcher's reforms, Peretz will not undo yours. Well, a slogan like: "Who would you trust better with your money, Bibi or Peretz?" will work wonders come election day. So will zeroing-in on all the economic gibberish that is being parroted so noisily about us. Lines like the one Shelly Yachimovich volunteered last week to The Marker - "Bibi failed, it is wrong to create jobs at all costs" - should be amplified and ridiculed. Think of what easy prey Shaul Mofaz would be if you force him into a public economic debate, one where you will grill him on the budget's numbers and expose his lack of a program with which to implement the economic alchemy he is preaching. In sum, your economic outlook and accomplishments are a reflection of the Israeli Zeitgeist, and what best connects you to the Israeli mainstream. Flaunt them. * Talk conviction. As one who helped forge this newspaper's support of the disengagement plan you so memorably opposed, I should let you know that this is where you've got a problem. The fact is that, whether justly or not, post-Gaza Israel feels less like after the loss of a limb, and more like after the removal of a tumor. Moreover, the timing of your resignation did not pass well publicly, and reminded many of your conduct as prime minister. Having said this, there is also electoral merit in this part of your ticket, because at the end of the day you stuck to your principles, even at the dear personal cost of forfeiting your de-facto status as the second most powerful man in the country. Mofaz and Shalom are doing their best to unleash against you emotional blackmail. You should challenge your Likud rivals for their ideological records, and not allow them to change the subject. The party membership that will soon be asked to elect Likud's leader is the same membership that voted democratically and overwhelmingly against the disengagement plan. How do these two people, who played first violin in making it happen, have the audacity to now return to this same electorate demanding its support? * Play on pride. It took no social expert to detect the undertone in Mofaz's vile attack on you when he reminisced about having been raised in a home where "bread slices were thick and the spread on them thin," and charged you for having been born and raised "with a golden spoon in the mouth." In saying this, Mofaz was suggesting that he, the humbly born immigrant from Iran, is a worthwhile candidate while you, the son of a white, rich intellectual, were actually an illegitimate candidate for a job that demands a kind of compassion that only people with his kind of origins can possess. The insinuations from Silvan Shalom's camp are in the same spirit, if less explicit. Apparently, your conscious response to Mofaz's cheap shot has been to ignore it. If I were you I would do the opposite. He meant to hurt you, Bibi, and you should say that you were hurt by him, and not just you, but in fact all Ashkenazim, who still happen to be the majority in this country, and whose success was accomplished neither by patronage nor by manipulation, as Mofaz believes, but by the hard work that made this country emerge in the first place. What's his problem? Are you to blame that your father was not a beggar? Besides, does Mofaz really think your father, an academic who spent a lifetime writing history books, was a rich tycoon? Or is there anything bad with his having paved your way to an MIT economics education, from which this economy has just benefited immensely? You've got nothing to be ashamed of in this department, and you are not the one who chose to make this contest stoop so low below the belt. You should therefore say something like: "You suffered economic hardship, Shaul? OK, I suffered through my Revisionist father's humiliation by a politically controlled academia that eventually forced his emigration. And you know something, Shaul? I am no less proud about my origins than you are of yours; Ashkenazim, too, have pride."