The name switches of what until recently marketed itself as the Israel Labor Party offer fascinating insight into how Zionism has steadily lost its allure on the Israeli Left.
What began life as Poalei Zion – the Workers of Zion – in time it morphed into MAPAI, Hebrew acronym for the Party of the Workers of Eretz Yisrael. The next stage was adopting the generic name of Labor – doubtless borrowed from the British context. So far the trend is clear and straightforward.
But now comes the spin – under its latest leading light, Isaac (not Yitzhak) “Buji” Herzog, Labor (aligned with Tzipi Livni’s disintegrating list) has chosen to call its ticket the Zionist Camp. At first hearing this certainly appears to be the sort of affirmation that would gladden Zionist hearts. Here at last is the cause of Zionism ostensibly espoused proudly and unapologetically.
A true balm for the soul – or is it?
Herzog himself, let’s not forget, is uneasy with the Zionist ethos – much as he may indignantly deny it and invoke the names of his former president father and his former chief-rabbi grandfather (and even his late uncle, foreign minister Abba Eban). Unquestionably Buji is an Israeli blueblood – a Brahmin, born into our uppermost political and social elite, a member of our highest local aristocratic caste.
But his much-flaunted heritage and sterling Labor credentials haven’t prevented Herzog from voicing opposition to the very term of a Jewish state. “The Jewish state expression is entirely mistaken,” he says recurrently (and we have a recording to prove it: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9nHlX19roA) “because it creates the impression of a nationality that enjoys excessive privileges.”
Get it? The world’s one and only state for the hounded and endangered Jewish people is somehow an “excessive privilege.”
Herzog, despite his seemingly mild-mannered tone, teeters on the brink of post-Zionism. So do many of his running-mates. We won’t even dwell on the often in-your-face anti-Zionist Zoher Bahalul (who declares: “our Palestinian identity is stronger than the Israeli”) or the ultra-leftist Prof. Yossi Yonah (who confessed: “Zionism doesn’t express what I am”).
Some of the women who made it to the Knesset slate’s top-ten are surely strange bedfellows in any Zionist context.
Stav Shaffir, for example, refused to share a podium with the Likud’s Yoav Kish because he is a reserve fighter pilot. She also thinks that “Hatikva is a racist national anthem.”
It’s not our say-so. Journalist Asher Schechter wrote a book on the 2011 demonstrations in which Shaffir was a key mover (Rothschild – the Chronicle of Protest, published by Kibbutz Hameuhad/Sifriat Hapoalim). On page 96 Schechter describes Shaffir’s vehement opposition to singing Hatikva. She was so emotional about it that “she burst into tears and yelled out that Hatikva is racist.” Shaffir is now in the vanguard of what purports to be the Zionist Camp.
Then there is Stav’s ideological twin, Merav.
Merav Michaeli has on more than one occasion advised Israeli mothers not to allow their kids to do military service. For example she told Galei Zahal: “women should not at all send their kids to the army when there is a continuous occupation for over 40 years. The regime in Israel doesn’t make the effort to solve this in other ways, so it’s necessary to stop being prepared to send children to the army.” This too is backed by recordings (http://www.mako.co.il/news-israel/local/Article-710967a2873cb21004.htm).
There is of course the possibility that the Zionist moniker has been twisted in the radical post-Zionist milieu to mean something entirely different from what the Zionist founding fathers conceivably intended. It could be that in some yuppie code Zionism has evolved into a cover-name for anarchist shenanigans.
But most likely it’s just a crass ploy. When certain names take on unfavorable connotations – like the Labor Party – they’re sidestepped by semantic manipulation geared to hoodwink the public into accepting what otherwise wouldn’t fly.
This is done by slapping an attractive label on an old worn product in the hope of increasing its appeal. Labor’s cynical return to patriotic trademarks and historical logos (that have traditionally been used to convey other meanings) constitutes deliberate obfuscation and distortion. Buji, Stav and Merav surely conceal hidden agendas.
Odds are that our tendentious Left-dominated media will never dwell on this. Most our talking heads and scribblers viscerally abhor Binyamin Netanyahu and fervently yearn for Herzog’s victory. Their reports and choices reflect this. Thus when dealing with Netanyahu’s participation in the Paris anti-terror march, all they could focus on was that he allegedly elbowed his way to the forefront. How rude!
This is complemented by whitewashing Buji’s past. If Bibi had even a miniature model of the skeleton hanging in Buji’s closet, we’d have never heard the end of it. But unlike Bibi, Buji enjoys etrog status. This terminology was coined by very leftist pundit Amnon Abramowitz when explaining why Ariel Sharon performed the political about-face that gave us Disengagement.
According to Abramowitz, Sharon, facing corruption charges, was powerfully incentivized to suck up to the media and the judiciary. The one surefire way to make himself likable was a policy-turnaround. At that point, noted Abramowitz, Sharon became the Left’s etrog – the Succot citron that is protectively wrapped in silky flax padding and safeguarded in a covered ornamental box.
Buji is the quintessential etrog – coddled and cuddled by the left-oriented media and judiciary. Anyone who recalls his pivotal role in Ehud Barak’s 1999 campaign cannot avoid this conclusion. Sharon, accused of less, merely tried to get the same breaks as Buji.
In 2003 then-Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein (now a Supreme Court justice) decided not to prosecute Barak, Herzog, ex-MK Weizman Shiri and Barak’s brother-in-law Doron Cohen for what then-State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg dubbed the “greatest election scam ever.”
In his January 2000 report Goldberg revealed mega-infractions for which the heaviest fine recorded for electioneering offenses was levied on Labor (NIS13.8mil). The report exposed a shocking unprecedented network of nonprofit organizations – some falsely masquerading as charities – deliberately set up to funnel funds unlawfully into Barak’s campaign coffers.
The state comptroller observed that Labor higher-ups unabashedly bragged about looking for legal loopholes, insisting that candidates who adhere to the letter of the law cannot win. Rubinstein’s decision not to try most of them apparently indicates that the loopholes worked – in their case. Non-etrogs would definitely not have been treated with kid gloves (and hence Sharon’s fear).
After lengthy convoluted rationalizations, Rubinstein opted for the easy way out – he let Labor’s headliners off the hook but decided to try the smaller fry, like campaign manager Tal Zilberstein and Beersheba branch official Gideon Sulimani, for some of the secondary offences that the upper echelons dodged. It was a token prosecution.
None of this was unexpected because of the lethargic nature of the entire investigation from the time Goldberg dropped the hot potato in the lap of reluctant police and prosecution investigators. Rather than push hard, they hardly pushed. The alacrity usually evinced in high-profile probes was notably missing here, as if the wish was that everything would magically go away.
All suspects pointedly refused to cooperate with the investigation and “took the Fifth.” Rubinstein harshly took to task those who kept mum, particularly Herzog – a campaign mover and shaker credited with handling much of the illicit financing via the bogus NPOs.
But Herzog is far from a chastened character. Ironically these days he himself takes to task Israel Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum for choosing to stay silent during police corruption investigations (on charges nowhere as weighty as those he faced). Kirshenbaum announced she is quitting public life, but Herzog didn’t.
He wiggled out arguing that originally funding restrictions applied to parties in Knesset contests, rendering prime-ministerial races exempt. The State Controller rejected this unequivocally but Rubinstein treated the etrog leniently and wondered whether nuances could just maybe have been misunderstood (never mind that Herzog is a lawyer quite capable of figuring out the fine print).
An artificial distinction was thus drawn between the campaign of the party and that of the candidate it fielded. In a feat of amazing legalistic acrobatics, Rubinstein contends that “clear evidence exists that the funds Herzog funneled to at least some NPOs were used for electioneering,” but he couldn’t say for sure that “Herzog knew the money is used in ‘mixed’ fashion,” i.e. for party campaigning rather than just for Barak’s electoral benefit.
This goes even beyond the hairsplitting laymen have come to expect from the legal establishment. It’s no surprise that Buji’s etrog treatment so forcefully affected Sharon. He couldn’t fail to comprehend that not all suspects are equal in the eyes of our law.
It’s clear that Herzog and associates got away with shady dealings and keeping mum because their etrog status inspired bizarre differentiation between back-to-back interconnected campaigns.
This is quite a stretch, for which ordinary folks shouldn’t fall as it boldly flies in the face of common sense. Money is fungible and Rubinstein writes that “Labor indeed didn’t differentiate between its twin campaigns nor kept separate books.”
Rubinstein even made allowances for Herzog’s funding of anti-Netanyahu publicity, because that negative propaganda “could not be directly proven as benefiting Labor.” Really?
Herzog got off on a flimsy technicality arising from inordinately generous legal interpretations which we may be forgiven for perceiving as a whitewash. This is especially so in view of the enormity of the breaches involved and in contrast to relentless police pursuit of cases which pale in comparison.
The only inescapable rationale for this mindboggling reality is that the Left, its ballot-box fortunes notwithstanding, remains this country’s solid rock of the establishment. Its sway over our closed and self-perpetuating judicial, journalistic and academic cliques is indisputable.
This all should stay uppermost in the voters’ minds – assuming our electorate retains much memory at all. Israel’s hyperactive no-holds-barred news outlets manufacture tantalizing sensations and synthetic crises daily and thereby intensify the nation’s collective amnesia. Deluged by screaming banner headlines and rating-grabs, we lose sight of yesterday.
Many among us have already forgotten the madness of running to shelters during this past summer’s rocket barrages. It was a direct outcome of Disengagement which was directly spawned by Herzog’s etrogization.
Seemingly forgivable fiddling with the rule of law and the fundamental equality before the law can have massive consequences. Enabling the hardly squeaky-clean “Zionist Camp” to get away with its sham pose can result in calamitous consequences that cannot be portrayed as unforeseen.