There’s a well-defined distinction between a schlimazel and a schlemiel. The former is the one on whom soup is spilled, while the latter is the one who spills it. In the rare instance that both categories of klutziness coalesce in one persona, it’s an out-and-out disaster. Such an embarrassing, uncommon confluence of bad luck and clumsiness may go a long way toward accounting for Amir Peretz’s incredible recurrent gaffes.
The one in which he sat alongside then-chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi in February 2007 and inspected paratroop maneuvers on the Golan through capped binoculars far exceeded the merely preposterous. It was more like a symbolic embodiment and accentuation of how Peretz and the lame Olmert government in which he served as defense minister looked out for Israel’s most critical security interests.
There Peretz was, peering intently into opaque black plastic lens-covers, yet nodding – apparently knowingly – to explanations by the IDF’s top commander. Peretz focused attentively, as if he actually saw something and even made professional sense of what he so keenly observed. This farce, seemingly straight out of a Marx Brothers madcap spoof, was repeated no fewer than three times on that one occasion.
In truth, though, it doesn’t much matter what Peretz did or didn’t see that morning. His peerless brand of piercing perception and knack for disregarding empirical evidence was recurrently demonstrated throughout the Second Lebanon War (to resort to extreme understatement). All these years later, and his ignominious resignation from the defense helm notwithstanding, Peretz is still avidly at it, still superciliously confident of his uncanny insight, still seeking to convince us that no one gets things as right as he does.
To wit is his recent assertion that “that [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu missed an opportunity to make peace that may not reappear.”
Peretz shares this view with convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti, one-time commander of the particularly vicious Fatah offshoot of Tanzim and now doing five life terms and another 40 years for attempted murder.
He was found guilty by an Israeli civilian court on May 20, 2004, on five counts of murder, including commissioning and organizing the attack on Tel Aviv’s Seafood Market restaurant, where three guests taking part in a bachelorette party were shot dead.
Yet inexplicably Barghouti boasts numerous left-wing Israeli fans, who tirelessly advocate his release on the unsubstantiated grounds that he alone can revive the moribund peace process.
In their eyes, Barghouti’s goodwill is real and trustworthy. This is an unfading political fashion.
Vying yet again for Labor’s primacy, Peretz is eager to stand out as a faithful follower of fashion second-to-none. Hence, he informed us all, he has been paying regular visits to Barghouti, and on these pilgrimages to the penitentiary, he espied with his X-ray vision an honorable interlocutor.
“Netanyahu says there’s ‘no partner.’ That’s just an avoidance tactic. Here is a partner,” Peretz said in reference to Barghouti. Accordingly the two have had a perfect meeting of the minds, especially about the awful Netanyahu.
Labor’s frontrunner and the Fatah chief-wannabe are in splendid sync, agreeing that “in a few more months, Netanyahu will miss the situation he’s in now” because “an earthquake is coming.”
But to be fair, Peretz’s isn’t an isolated case of self-inflicted blindness. Indeed, candidates must please their electorate, and Peretz does just that. Many leftover Laborites persist in regarding Barghouti’s imprisonment as somehow illicit or at least counterproductive. They continue to perceive him as capable of boosting precisely the sort of two-state hypothetical panacea that some in Israel sanctify.
Nothing seems to dissuade them. If Barghouti’s role in orchestrating the bloodbath of the second intifada won’t change their opinions, his inflammatory statements to the Fatah convention a couple of years back obviously carried little weight.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who has lately attained the dubious distinction of being Labor’s elder statesman, once rationalized that “Barghouti is the only one who can deliver the goods to Israel.” Ex-minister-without-portfolio Avishay Braverman was similarly impressed: “We must consider freeing Barghouti in order to create a viable, strong Palestinian leadership.”
This isn’t only a Labor quirk.
MK Gideon Ezra (Kadima) argued that “Barghouti is the best anti-Hamas bulwark. Israel needs a strong man to negotiate with.” Former Meretz chairman Haim Oron is another regular caller on Barghouti. “I’ve visited him many times,” Oron crowed last March, adding, “Those who think that Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are peace partners need to know that Barghouti supports their position, and I therefore also consider him a partner.”
Then there’s Meretz guru author Amos Oz. He sent Barghouti the Arabic translation of his book A Tale of Love and Darkness, complete with the following personal dedication: “This story is our story. I hope you read it and understand us better, as we attempt to understand you. Hoping to meet soon in peace and freedom.”
With eyes wide shut, our self-professed omniscients appear to exude pragmatism – although its ramifications undermine the cause of justice, especially for Barghouti’s victims. The soundness of the advice dispensed by the convict’s groupies must be taken on faith. Implementing their recommendations would merely liberate a dangerous antagonist, an occurrence likely to trigger new terror onslaughts of the sort Barghouti masterminded in the past.
Hasn’t the homicidal spree he unleashed in unequivocal contravention of the Oslo accords already abundantly underscored his deceitfulness and thereby disqualified him as negotiating partner? None of the Barghouti release-advocates ever explained precisely how he was transformed from a killer into a peace-lover, why they ignore Barghouti’s oftentimes bellicose rhetoric when it contradicts their agenda, or what would happen if the hopes pinned on him were violently frustrated.
But this is the crux of the matter, to say nothing of the fact that bringing terrorists to trial is no trifling task.
Members of Israel’s security forces literally put their lives on the line to track down and capture terror kingpins. If we ourselves perform naïve experiments and turn terrorists loose, we devalue their apprehenders’ sacrifice.
Equal contempt would be expressed for our judicial system – one of the most autonomous, equitable and progressive in the entire democratic world.
By downplaying multiple murder convictions, we invalidate verdicts, delegitimize our courts and damage Israel’s legal reputation beyond repair.
Perhaps a novelist coveting the Nobel and basking in the limelight of European accolades can afford to pooh-pooh the fact that Barghouti earned his status with the blood of slain and maimed Israelis (and, from our vantage point, thereby established his unreliability).
But can a candidate for national leadership be as negligent and reckless as vainglorious literati?
Apparently so. Peretz has spared no effort to prove time and again that strategic amateurism by no means prevents him from pompously parading as Napoleon reincarnate. Not only doesn’t he see things as they are, but – with the audacious self-assurance of one who adamantly refuses to remove his own proverbial lens caps – he seeks to induce the rest of us to fall in line and darken our optics as well.