The electoral race I covered in 1981 was the most contentious I remember. It followed the 1977 upheaval in which a non-Labor government for the first time became a plausible option. Behaving as if it were robbed of its rightful legacy, Labor aimed to correct the voters’ “error.” The end justified any and all means.
And so one evening, Yossi Sarid, who was Labor’s campaign spokesman, charged that the Likud had planted a suitcase packed with explosives outside Labor’s campaign headquarters at Tel Aviv’s Deborah Hotel. Automatically I phoned the police to inquire and was informed in no uncertain terms that an innocent tourist had inadvertently forgotten his bag at the entrance to a travel agency next door to the Deborah.
What did this have to do with a bomb? Nothing. What did this have to do with Labor? Nothing. What did this have to do with the Likud? Nothing.
Nevertheless, instead of praise for journalistic due diligence, I was subjected to the most vituperative chewing-out of my career. My bosses severely rebuked me for not trusting Sarid, for checking up and, most of all, for including the police version in my story. I was accused of no less than deliberate sabotage and asked in exasperation why I just won’t write what I’m told. In other words, I was taken to task for not toeing the party line.
This 30-year-old reminiscence remains pertinent.
News continues to be disingenuously distilled, public opinion keeps being manipulated, reality is still relentlessly downplayed in our environment of chronic intellectual indolence, and truth is ever-disdained as a moral virtue. Now as then, we voluntarily submit to Through the Looking Glass reflections, where everything is guaranteed to be nothing like the ostensibly clear and recognizable images before our eyes.
The suitcase bomb story was unabashedly amplified in most media by reporters congratulating themselves as freethinkers. Their sort still proliferates and still, despite hype to the contrary, relishes the bon ton. Self-professed nonconformists still conform shamelessly. Indeed, if anything, challenging the conventional, cloying and kitschy groupthink is more unlikely today than back-in-the-day.
It almost doesn’t really matter who in fact smeared offensive invective in Jaffa’s Muslim cemetery. The Left leapt at the opportunity to ascribe the defacement to “far-Right elements,” which instantly inspired a host of tendentious scribblers and broadcasters to outdo each other in denouncing the outrage.
It was the Sarid suitcase incident all over again. Doubting was politically incorrect, and skepticism was deemed a grievous ethical lapse. Jumping to conclusions was the imperative – regardless of anti-Russian slurs accompanying the anti-Arab ones, to say nothing of soccer-team slogans.
But while we genuflected in contrition for the supposed collective sin of our people, apathy continued to reign supreme regarding the daily desecration and despoilment at the incomparable 3,000-year-old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives – the oldest continuously used cemetery in the world, where many of this nation’s legendary greats are interred.
Tombstones are vandalized and living mourners are attacked repeatedly, but decrying daily predations by Arabs is judged fundamentally unenlightened. We won’t even mention the recurrent devastation at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, or even the utter destruction by nearby Arabs of Kibbutz Merhavia’s old graveyard, where remains of some of the first pioneers of Zionist socialism were virtually dug up.
That’s dog bites man. It’s frequent and expected.
The same can be said about the fatal car crash of Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan. At first, knee-jerk impulse pronounced this a traffic accident. The driver, the populace was told, lost control and overturned. Only later was it admitted that a huge rock, propelled from a passing vehicle, knocked Palmer out and sentenced him and the baby to death. Afterward, the Arab serial-assailants rummaged through the wreck and stole Palmer’s gun.
None of these revelations shocked public opinion too drastically. Dog bites man again. The way of nature is for Arabs to slay Jewish tots. Were a stone hurled by hypothetical Jewish perpetrators to claim Arab lives, this country’s media would rock the planet with thunderous vehemence.
But we inhabit a strange part of the globe. A surreal logic prevails in our midst. Therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable – or so it seems – for Israel’s defense minister to apologize to Egypt for the shooting of five troopers during clashes triggered by a murderous terrorist incursion through Egyptian territory. Cairo wasn’t required to apologize for the languor and laxity (if not outright ill-will) that facilitated the infiltration of Israel and the massacre of Israeli civilians on the road to Eilat – literally under the noses of Egyptian patrols.
We expect assorted aggressors around us to place immense importance on national honor, to which we feel obliged to kowtow. Yet we, prudent and pragmatic by our own perceptions, forgo even a modicum of respect. In our unforgiving region, this can only be interpreted as wretched weakness, and the wretchedly weak have no honor and may, therefore, be further trampled upon and debased.
Weakness invites abuse, while nothing meted out to the despicable loser justifies retribution or even nominal self-defense. By Arab/Muslim codes, Israelis have no right to stick up for themselves, pursue heinous mass-murderers, try them (according to our uber-pedantic due process) and incarcerate them.
Hence it was perfectly legitimate to nab Gilad Schalit, hold him for ransom and swap his freedom for the release of homicidal sadists.
And in our erratic environs, we – all of us potential victims of emboldened veteran and up-and-coming terrorists – are euphorically mesmerized by the child’s homecoming (the “child” being both an adult and a soldier). We imbibe the fashionable diktat of the thought police.
Its power was sufficiently pervasive to chip at Binyamin Netanyahu’s resolve.
Our prime minister habitually pays homage to his brother Yonatan, who in 1976 gave his life to rescue 105 Israeli passengers held hostage in Entebbe. In the end, however, no matter how sincerely we sympathize with Netanyahu’s discomfiture in the face of cynical demagoguery, there’s no escaping the realization that Bibi betrayed Yoni.
If it’s okay to barter for the freedom of hostages by setting loose hardened terror masterminds, then wasn’t Yoni’s sacrifice in vain? Israel could have paid off yesteryear’s hijackers and spared Yoni’s life and the lives of three passengers who didn’t make it.
Each of the two elder brothers Netanyahu embodies a different approach.
Yoni paid the ultimate price for the principle of not negotiating with hostage-takers, not paying them ransom and not turning their malicious machinations into tangible triumph. Bibi has now come out – no matter what his excuses or excruciating political duress – for the principle of negotiating with hostage-takers, paying them ransom and turning their malicious machinations into tangible triumph.
It may be heretical to say so, and it certainly departs from the all-consuming conventional, cloying and kitschy groupthink.
But to cheerfully run with the pack and succumb to self-deception is akin to unquestioningly selling out and falling for the Sarid suitcase calumny because that – as distinguished from critical assessment – was the expected proper tack.