Inappropriate elections tactics

Netanyahu did not invent jingoism as an election tactic. He has simply taken it to cynical extremes no one in Israel before him ever did.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 2014 AIPAC annual conference (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 2014 AIPAC annual conference
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu did not invent jingoism as an election tactic. He has simply taken it to cynical extremes no one in Israel before him ever did.
No one can deny either that Israel has a clear interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a military nuclear capability or that Netanyahu has failed to convince the US and the Europeans to adopt his position on the issue. However, neither the “brilliant” political exercise he concocted with his Republican cronies in Congress to address Congress behind the back of President Barack Obama nor “bumping off” an Iranian general will make any difference – at least not on the issue of Iran’s nuclear future.
Where it might make a difference is in the approaching elections, since Netanyahu’s interest is to divert the public debate from socio-economic issues, in which he is weak, to political- security ones, in which he excels – at least verbally.
The problem is that along the way Israel might lose the automatic American veto on United Nations Security Council resolutions that run counter to Israel’s vital interests, and that Iran, after an agreement that will lead to the lifting of the economic sanctions against it, might start reacting in kind to Israel’s persistent pinpricks.
Since Netanyahu understands a thing or two about international relations, he must certainly be aware of the risk he is taking for us all, which indicates just how panicky he must feel about the prospect of losing the premiership.
But it is not these issues I would like to focus on, but rather another aspect of the election tactics of the Likud and Bayit Yehudi.
In the more distant past, in the runup to general elections most of the parties drafted detailed election platforms.
Today, wordy platforms have been replaced by “message boxes,” which are distributed by the lists among their candidates for use during appearances in the media and political rallies, and in the social media.
In the message boxes of the Likud and the Bayit Yehudi, one of the prominent messages is that the “Zionist Camp” is made up of candidates who are extreme leftists, anti-Zionists and post-Zionists.
The problem with all these terms is that the average voter doesn’t really understand exactly what they mean, except that all of them suggest that the persons to whom they are applied are not to be trusted at best, and are outright traitors at worst.
In general, extreme leftism is associated first and foremost with Communism; Ayelet Shaked from Bayit Yehudi stated on television last week that the Zionist Camp is made up of Communists. Communism is associated with doing away with private property, involving wide-scale nationalization; working-class revolution; the end of nations and nationalism; and in association with the Soviet Union dictatorship, imperialism and suppression of basic human rights. Non-Communist extreme leftism is associated with pacifism. None of these really describes the Zionist Camp, or even its Labor Party component.
But what about the nicknames “anti-Zionists” and “post-Zionists”? Here the problem is the definition of Zionism. For most Likudniks and supporters of Bayit Yehudi, Zionism means Greater Israel, Jewish settlement throughout the Land of Israel west of the River Jordan, and unreserved manifestations of patriotism.
For Bayit Yehudi, despite some secular members, there is also no Zionism without God.
Since the Labor Party and Hatnua believe that Israel cannot remain both Jewish (in terms of the majority of its population) and democratic if it continues to hold on to the territories occupied during the Six Day War, and since the two predominantly secular parties believe that patriotism, while important, cannot come at the expense of tolerance and pluralism, both are suspected of anti- or post-Zionism.
But there is another definition of Zionism. This definition claims that Zionism is concerned with the establishment and preservation of a state in which all Jews are welcome, and entitled to automatic citizenship. In this state all Jews – whether religious or secular; Orthodox, Conservative or Reform; right-wing, left-wing or center; Ashkenazi or Sephardi; white or black – may live freely according to their traditions and beliefs. According to this definition territory is secondary to essence, and part of the essence is democratic principles.
Not accepting this definition does not necessarily turn you into an anti-Zionist or a post-Zionist. Anti- or post-Zionism according to this definition involves rejecting the right of the Jewish people to a state in the Middle East for whatever reason; rejecting Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state rather than “the state of all its citizens”; or rejecting Zionism due to its non-halachic foundations. The Zionist Camp is certainly none of these.
But to return to the right-wing “extreme Left” “post- and anti-Zionist” campaign, the means used to “prove” the allegations is to find “incriminating” quotes from candidates on the Zionist Camp list. The quotes are usually accurate, but invariably cited out of context, as the following example will demonstrate.
Isaac Herzog – leader of the Labor Party, and number one on the Zionist Camp list – is quoted as having said that “the expression ‘Jewish State’ is completely mistaken.” After an extensive search, I found the origin of the quote: an interview Herzog gave Dov Weissglass at the end of a political-security symposium held by the Labor Party in the Middle of April 2014 (Passover eve) at the Institute for National Security Studies. (The full 23-minute interview may be watched at https:// 5dOxIV3I&feature=youtube.)
In this interview Herzog analyzed Netanyahu’s policy of negotiation with the Palestinians, inter alia criticizing the agreement to free Palestinian prisoners rather than curtail Jewish settlement activities in the territories, and Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for negotiations. Herzog explained his opposition to this precondition, not to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, adding that “the nation state should be defined at the end of the agreement, during the signing of the agreement, when each state shall recognize the nationalism of its neighbor.”
The same method was used against Labor candidates Stav Shafir, quoted as having said that Hatikvah was a racist song; Merav Michaeli, quoted as having called on mothers not to send their children to the IDF; Prof.
Yossi Yona, one of the founders of the Keshet Hamizrahit, who expressed various post-Zionist positions in the past, most of which he subsequently modified; and Zohair Bahlul – the Labor Party’s Arab candidate – quoted as having said during Operation Protective Edge that he felt more Palestinian than Israeli.
I checked each of the cases, and the same phenomenon of taking words out of context keeps repeating itself.
In his appearance in the Hamateh program on Saturday evening on TV Channel 10, Naftali Bennett repeated each and every one of these inaccurate quotes, aggressively and boisterously preventing the program’s horrified presenter – Nadav Perry – from getting a word in an attempt to answer at least some of the allegations.
Now, it is true that the Left is not completely innocent of using similar tactics against right-wing candidates.
It is also true that this campaign is unlikely to have any effect on potential Zionist Camp voters, though it will undoubtedly encourage extremism and intolerance among convinced right-wingers.
The real cause for concern is Netanyahu’s opportunistic jingoism, which could have devastating consequences for Israel’s vital interests, if in the final reckoning it helps him get reelected.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.