It’s official. A brand new Three Stooges remake is well under way. The sequel stooges have just banded together in a mutually advantageous alliance to fortify the governing coalition of the Jewish state – the ultimate setting to best suit their zany misadventures. For one thing, it’s quite compatible with the ethnicity of the original trio – brothers Moe and Curly (born Horwitz) and Larry who was a Feinberg.
But more important is the fact that there’s nowhere like Israel’s madcap political arena to accentuate the knucklehead anarchic antics of the jerks-of-all-trades (as yesteryear’s screwballs dubbed themselves). With them around there’s never a dull moment. They keep unsettling all and sundry, themselves foremost.
Stepping into Moe’s shoes is Binyamin Netanyahu even though he doesn’t sport a soup bowl haircut and even if he hasn’t exactly been poking at politicos’ eyes, whacking sidekicks with skillets and crunching the noses of cronies with neurotic, hyperactive zest.
But though deficient in Moe’s bully brass, Bibi is nonetheless the uncontested leader of the new threesome and their belated bond has only confirmed and boosted his primacy like never before. For better or worse, Bibi is recognized both near and far as the (for now) indisputable boss. He looks in charge, at the top of his game and unbeatable. But could he be in for nasty surprises?
Tied to him by a symbiotic fraternal attachment is Ehud Barak, playing the petulant, unpredictable and smugly self-satisfied Curly. It doesn’t matter that Barak doesn’t shave his head. He commands plenty of other attributes to qualify him for the role of the rotund buffoon, not least his pretentious parading as a key player in seeming oblivion of the fact that he has entirely lost his political power base. That in itself makes Barak as obviously unmindful of his ridiculousness as the originator of the trademark chuckle, underscored by the inevitable: “Nyuk, nyuk.”
Then comes the one non-brother, the add-on stooge – Shaul Mofaz-come-lately in the role of pensive Larry. True, Mofaz hasn’t quite mastered his alter ego’s puppy-dog look, but he does try awfully hard to impress us as sincere and deep. And Mofaz is every bit the nebbish bungler that Larry invariably was.
When Ariel Sharon broke away from the Likud to found Kadima, Mofaz in a righteous upstanding pose, sent out letters to all party central committee members assuring them that he won’t take the expedient course because “you don’t leave home.” But before the mailman managed to deliver the envelopes, Mofaz expediently left home.
That was just the first in a long list of mishaps, the latest of which included winning Kadima’s top slot only to be dragged against his will, his bravado notwithstanding, to new elections too soon. He next called Netanyahu a liar and vowed vehemently never to enter a Bibi-led coalition. So what if, as we were reading his lips, Mofaz deftly performed an about-face and linked his fortunes to those of Bibi and Barak?
It was better than going it alone on the campaign trail and slipping on the proverbial banana-peel-to-end-all-banana-peels. The ensuing embarrassment would have been far more mortifying than even the unkindest sight gag in the meanest of burlesques. Like Larry, Mofaz opted to play it safe and submissive. But for how long?
The one sure thing about the Stooges is that in their universe nothing is for sure, nothing can be taken at face value and nothing can be taken for granted. Therefore it’s advisable not to bet on this new team staying united and operating in the harmony they may exude for the short haul. The wild-eyed knife-jugglers are waiting in the wings, sharpening their blades.
Now that Bibi has saved them from the voters’ wrath and given them a stay of execution, the hotshots in Mofaz’s rogues’ gallery aren’t running as scared as they did before the grand coalition deal was announced. Without a trace of contrition or humility, they now announce that their goodwill is conditional, that Bibi must meet their timetables, and perform as per their direction or they will pull the rug from under him.
Forgotten is the dispensable detail that they were headed for an Election Day disaster while Netanyahu was the unmistakable front-runner. It’s not that they can bring Netanyahu down, but they can wear him down, besmirch and badmouth him with expertise unsurpassed outside Kadima. Knocking Bibi will become the new test for political pluck among the Kadima blusterers.
Bibi may well rue the pact he struck. He may well come out hobbled and battered and he’s “soitenly” not as irrepressible as Moe was. Odds are he won’t be the same by the time his new partners are through with him.
Their frequent flip-flops don’t recommend them for trustworthiness. Indeed those who lied in the past are likely to do so again. The ease with which they defended their zigzag into the coalition foreshadows the ease with which they’ll proffer excuses for trashing it – whether or not they actually leave. It’s easy to stay inside the coalition while posturing in the mantle of the sanctimonious opposition ideologue.
All the while, Mofaz might not only benefit from a breather, he may emerge rehabilitated (to say nothing of the image enhancement which Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich is sure to derive).
The bad press which greeted the trio’s premiere will only further motivate Mofaz to second guess Bibi at every opportunity, malign him at every turn and generally undermine him. His experience at saying one thing and switching to its direct opposite without batting an eyelid is practically peerless.
Moreover, he’s prone to doing it so senselessly that he cannot be expected to be reined in by coolheaded assessments. The more censorious commentators have a go at Mofaz, the greater will be his inclination to curry their favor, which will be really bad news for Bibi.
Therefore, it matters much that the talking heads now talk about a replicated “stinking maneuver.” This despite the fact that their comparison with the 1990 precedent just doesn’t hold water.
Three years pre-Oslo, in 1990 – when Israel was governed by the second unity coalition under Yitzhak Shamir – then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres behaved like a law onto himself. Already then (and not for the first time) he furtively engaged in unauthorized freelance negotiations. He pursued covert assignations with Jordan behind Shamir’s back, in violation of every conceivable democratic principle.
When Shamir rejected Peres’s ultimatum (hatched with the notorious James Baker), Peres plotted to topple Shamir’s government, which he did. To Peres’s exasperation, however, he subsequently failed to put together a substitute coalition. Yitzhak Rabin, who branded Peres “an unrelenting underminer,” dubbed this “the stinking maneuver.”
The stinking maneuver of 22-years-ago constituted an elaborate scheme to deconstruct a national unity coalition. To apply the same catchphrase to the construction of a national unity coalition is more than misleading. It’s deliberate demagoguery.
Besides, it’s instructive to recall that back in the day our Left-dominated media cheered Peres on and deprecatingly rejected Rabin’s disapproval of the stench. Nothing was too foul to oust a Likud leader – then and now.
That’s why the press has resurrected Rabin’s harsh headline for the Peres sabotage. It’s not because another stinking maneuver was perpetrated but because nothing a Likud leader does can please most news analysts (unless, like Sharon, the Likud leader grievously injures the Likud). The criterion isn’t whether a coalition is formed or dismantled, but whether or not the Likud is harmed.
The Left, which now decries the sudden swerve away from early elections, griped endlessly about these very projected elections because the polls unanimously predicted a Netanyahu landslide. The bottom line beneath the multi-layered left-wing hypocrisy is that whoever teams up with Netanyahu is bound to be whacked by hostile opinion-molders.
Mofaz is well aware of this. His image is important to him and he will defend it by making Bibi’s life hell – now that Kadima no longer fears an inconvenient Knesset campaign.
Thus it’s doubtful that lasting political peace was secured by sheltering Mofaz from the electoral storm. If anything, Netanyahu will now be subjected to much graver pressure from within his cabinet (in addition to Barak’s) to sacrifice vital national interests to coax Ramallah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiations table.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners at home will lean hard on him to deposit a hefty down payment just to get talks going. Similar extortion will be applied almost on every policy front – domestic, diplomatic and defense-oriented.
The upshot is that the coalition itself will become the future sparring ground. We will all in all probability witness farcical hijinks in the hallowed name of peace and democracy.
Sullen-faced Mofaz/Larry will scramble our brains, while supercilious Barak/Curly will chortle prodigiously with characteristic Stoogian self-congratulation. And, in a reversal of roles, Bibi’s/Moe’s shins will this time be kicked, his nose tweaked and his head continuously bopped.
All the while Bibi’s newfound coalition partners will shout the old stooge adaptation of the solidarity slogan (first sounded by Moe, Curly and Larry in their 1935 flick, Restless Knights): “All for one! One for all! Every man for himself!”