Rattling the Cage: Smear and fear

Today Israelis are afraid, which means Netanyahu and Likud are back in business.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
'Smolmert." For those who don't know Hebrew, the word "smol" means "left," as in leftist. Olmert, "Smolmert." Get it? "Smolmert" is the theme of Likud's new media campaign. This distortion of the acting prime minister's name is the highlight of Likud's new ads, the ones now displayed on the sides of buses. After "Smolmert," the theme of Likud's next media campaign is going to be "Olmert, Dolmert, big fat Bolmert." Or maybe something not so complex. What is the story with these people? Are they trying to give Israeli voters the giggles? Do they test their ads on seven-year-olds? Isn't it embarrassing to know that this is the party that was running the country only a few months ago, and that its leader was once the prime minister? Yet all that's really new about the "Smolmert" campaign is the pre-adolescent tone; in content, this is classic Likud, classic Netanyahu. After he quit the Sharon government last August and tried to take over Likud, Netanyahu called Sharon a leftist. When he was prime minister and Yitzhak Mordechai joined the list of Likud leaders who couldn't take him anymore, he called Mordechai a leftist. When president Ezer Weizman said he was destroying the peace process, he called Weizman a leftist. And, of course, on the way to getting elected in 1996, he called Shimon Peres a leftist. As leader of the nation, Netanyahu gave a hint of what he means by "leftist" when he whispered into Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri's ear that leftists "had forgotten what it is to be Jews." Coming out of Netanyahu's mouth, the term "leftist" conjures up a Jew who's not really a Jew at all, a Jew without any pride, a Jew who lets the enemy walk all over him, a Jewish coward at best, a Jewish collaborator otherwise. As far as Netanyahu and Likud are concerned, this characterization applied to Peres, Weizman, Mordechai and Sharon, and now it applies to "Smolmert." It went for Labor, Meretz and the defunct Center Party, and now it goes for Kadima. Based on what polls are saying week after week, it seems about 60 percent of Israeli Jews, by Likud's way of thinking, are now leftists. Sixty percent of the Jews in this country, according to Netanyahu's view, have "forgotten what it is to be Jews." Smear and fear. This is Netanyahu's campaign today, and it's been his campaign since anyone can remember. RECENTLY HE led the media to some spot in the West Bank that overlooks Ben-Gurion Airport, warning that if Olmert gets his way, Palestinians standing right there with Stinger missiles will be free to shoot down passenger planes. I remember hearing him on the radio in 1993 talking to a group of American Jews visiting some spot in the West Bank overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, warning that if the Rabin government got its way, Palestinians right there with Stinger missiles could shoot down their planes next time they came to Israel. This, by the way, was before the Oslo Accord of September 1993; I mentioned it in an article I wrote that summer. As leader of the opposition at the time, Netanyahu was warning what would happen if the government pulled IDF troops out of any corner of any Palestinian refugee camp. As leader of the opposition today, 13 years later, he's warning that the same thing will happen if the government builds the West Bank security barrier in compliance with the Supreme Court's orders. The details have changed, but Netanyahu's message - at least his message when he's running for prime minister, not when he's being prime minister - hasn't changed: Wherever there are Arabs, we must sit on them. Otherwise - good-bye Israel. LESS THAN two months ago, it seemed he and Likud were finished, headed for the dustheap. But Sharon's stroke, and even more so Hamas's election victory, have given them new life. Today Israelis are afraid. Which means Netanyahu and Likud are back in business. The polls show Kadima holding steady at about 40 Knesset seats with Likud at 15-17, but I'm convinced that one serious terror attack would shake Kadima's standing, and two serious terror attacks could cause it to collapse. Israelis would suddenly become very scared, and very angry. With Sharon no longer around to give them courage, there would be nothing and nobody to stop Netanyahu from once again presenting himself as the national savior. It happened in 1996, and it could happen again. Even though now, unlike in 1996, Netanyahu has a record as prime minister to answer for, it doesn't matter - people forget. And what they don't forget, he happily distorts. He says that as prime minister he brought down terror. What exactly did prime minister Netanyahu do to bring down terror? Was it that he handed the city of Hebron over to Yasser Arafat? Or was it that he gave Arafat an additional 13% of the West Bank in the Wye Agreement? Was it that he freed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli prison to go run Hamas again? Or was it that he offered the Golan Heights back to Syria's Hafez Assad? No, somehow it was none of the above. The truth is that prime minister Netanyahu did nothing to bring down terror. In fact, terror came down four months before Netanyahu took office, and stayed down - getting even lower, in fact - for 15 months after he left it. Ironically, it was Yasser Arafat who brought down terror. He had no choice - after the two Jerusalem bus bombings and Dizengoff Center bombing of early 1996, he either had to shut Hamas down, or the Oslo process was over and so was his career as rais. So, as even Likud's No. 2 candidate, Silvan Shalom, recalled nostalgically, Arafat ordered his men to "lock up 1,000 Hamasniks and shave off their beards." And with four months to go of the Peres government, Palestinian terror subsided. Arafat kept the lid on it for the ensuing three years while Netanyahu was in office, and for another 15 months while Ehud Barak was in power. Then Arafat decided to lift the lid, and the intifada boiled over. But few Israelis remember this, and if the worst scenes of the intifada return between now and Election Day March 28, Netanyahu will have the voters' full attention for whatever he wants to tell them. It'll be deja vu. Terror - it's Netanyahu's and Likud's only hope for victory, maybe even for political survival. Let the rest of us hope for peace.