Political Malaise and False Escape Fantasies
If I had a shekel for every threat I’ve heard from disgruntled citizens to “leave the country” if a certain politician rises to power or a particular policy is implemented, I’d be rich.
Having just returned from a trip to the United States, where Trump-o-mania has some people in a frenzy over the possibility that the real estate mogul might win the presidential election in November, I thought I could escape some of this type of hysteria by returning home to Israel, where such hyperbole is so commonplace that it is barely noticeable.
But there is no rest for the weary, as I would discover on the day of my flight to Tel Aviv, when the announcement was made that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had entered into a coalition deal with former foreign minister and nemesis, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
That this deal entailed the replacement of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was of no source of concern to me. Though Ya’alon has an illustrious history and a reputation for being both a serious military man and levelheaded think-tank member, I gave up on him when he started preaching morality to Israeli society. At a time when both radical Islamists and Western professors, as well as huge swaths of the British Labour Party, are waging a frontal assault on the Jewish state, accusing it of atrocities it does not commit, the last thing Israel needs is a cabinet member adding fuel to the anti-Zionist and antisemitic fire.
I therefore say goodbye to Ya’alon without a heavy heart. Though Lieberman leaves much to be desired, at least he believes in meting out the death penalty to terrorists. Nor is he even as “right-wing” as his detractors claim. Like the positions of Trump, Lieberman’s are often indistinguishable from those of his left-wing counterparts. It’s the “take no prisoners” rhetoric and associations with dubious characters that make both men controversial.
It was thus to be expected that Israeli pundits would be as obsessed with this latest political move on Netanyahu’s part as American analysts have been about Trump. Nor is it new in either country for members of the media to turn themselves into the primary focus of the news they are presenting or dissecting.
A perfect case in point is the outrage that US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes unleashed when he admitted to having pulled the wool over patsy journalists who bought his spin on the Iran deal. Though the real horror of that story is the revelation that the administration in Washington was purposely deceiving the public about the dangerous agreement with an arch-enemy on the way to becoming a nuclear power, the press was far more incensed about being shamed by Rhodes than by Tehran’s race to the bomb with White House collusion.
Another example is the rift between Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and Trump, caused when the former asked the latter a question that he didn’t like during a GOP debate. Taking his revenge on Kelly, Trump first attacked her then refused to give her interviews. Since Trump is a mega ratings-driver, this spelled career doldrums for Kelly. As a result, she met with him to clear the air. Soon afterward, when she was given her own solo program, Trump was its first guest, making Kelly’s debut into Barbara Walters-land the stuff of reality TV. Indeed, what the presumptive Republican presidential candidate had to say during the interview was of less interest to viewers than how he interacted with the woman he had previously dissed.
Israeli media personalities are similarly preoccupied with their stardom, with anchors and reporters appearing in ads for their networks that look and feel more like commercials for variety shows than promos for hard-hitting, in-depth coverage of the issues of the day.
On Friday night, then, faced with the Netanyahu-Ya’alon-Lieberman triangle, the panelists on Israel’s Channel 2‘s evening news magazine appeared happy to have a sexy topic to breathe new life into their studio. Little did they know that the person who would end up stealing the limelight was middle-aged military correspondent Roni Daniel, who lost it on live TV.
Pounding on the table several times, Daniel interrupted his fellow panelists to announce that the move to replace Ya’alon with Lieberman, following a series of negotiations with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, meant that there was no future for his children in Israel. This, he said, was not because Lieberman would suddenly decide to blitz and re-occupy Gaza. No, Daniel, insisted, nothing of the sort would happen. The greater problem was that political machinations have become so cynical, have gone so far, that the country’s best interests are lost in the desperate attempt by Netanyahu to “hold on to his seat.” Yes, decried Daniel, who stressed his own heroic service in the IDF, though once he would have considered the idea of his kids emigrating, today, he would totally understand it if they picked up and left.
His tantrum has gained widespread attention, all of it prefaced by the assertion that he “could not be accused of having left-wing politics.” On the contrary, it is pointed out, he is the epitome of the establishment: a Six-Day War veteran who has been so loyal to the army that his reportage is not even objective.
My own response to the brouhaha was to burst out laughing. When have politicians in this or any other country not tried to “hold on to their seats”? This is a reason to leave the Jewish state that boasts a rise in immigration from Western countries? This is a hot news flash that seasoned reporters like Daniel have just discovered?
The final question he and other Israelis and Americans with escape fantasies ought to contemplate is where they imagine they can settle to be rid of their malaise about living under flawed democratic political systems — Syria?
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.