Newt Gingrich (AP)
Newt Gingrich. Photo by AP
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1. NEWT GINGRICH FOR PRIME MINISTER

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumphant speech to the U.S. Congress in May, some political bloggers amused themselves with the suggestion that he would make an ideal Republican candidate for president. A reciprocal flight of imagination this week would be to depict Newt Gingrich as an ideal challenger to Netanyahu for the leadership of Israel’s right wing camp.

Gingrich, of course, warmed the cockles of Israeli right-wingers’ hearts by describing Palestinians as “an invented people”, but what would really get them going is the audacity and ferocity of his attacks on “godless” judicial activism and his persistent assaults on cultural, academic and media elites that are ruining the country.

Gingrich is articulating aloud what so many members of Israel’s ruling coalition believe in their hearts, as they press on with their campaign to appoint like-minded judges to Israeli courts, to curtail the influence of critical media and “leftist, elitist” journalists, and to purge Israeli universities of hotbeds of so-called “anti-Zionist” academics Gingrich could not only provide an ideological framework for many of these intellectually-challenged Israeli lawmakers, he could also spur them on to bigger and greater things. His blueprint for dealing with deviant judges – including subpoenas, arrests, impeachments and, if worse comes to worst, open defiance of court rulings – would be considered daring even by the ever-deteriorating standards of Israel’s ruling coalition, but that would only serve to enhance Gingrich’s stature as a visionary innovator and potential leader.

When he speaks of activist judges who are trying to “impose secularism” and to “undermine core values”, Gingrich sounds like a spokesman for those who claim that Israel’s Supreme Court is a cabal of liberal, anti-religious, leftist jurists who “love Arabs” and dictate “foreign values” to the country’s “Zionist” and “tradition-loving” majority. When he writes, as he did in his book “Rediscovering God in America” that “a media-academic-legal elite is energetically determined to impose a radically secularist vision against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans” all you need to do is substitute “Israelis” for “Americans”, or “anti-Zionist” for “secularist” and you can almost hear Netanyahu, Lieberman, or Shas leader Eli Yishai firing up their party stalwarts in closed conference. But when Gingrich says that “the secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did” or speaks of Barak Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” motivation, you can begin to conjure Gingrich as a firebrand who would not just emulate but actually eclipse even the most incendiary of Israeli radicals and thus pose a grave threat to the established right-wing hierarchy.

It was said of Netanyahu that the only obstacle to his running for president in America is the fact that he would be ineligible, because he was born in Jerusalem. The flip side of that is saying that Gingrich would be a shoe-in in Israel, but for the fact that he would have to convert to Judaism in order to qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return. Both of which, when you come to think about it, are not insurmountable: Gingrich has already converted once and American presidents, as many Republicans believe, have been known to forge their birth certificates.

2. ROMNEY: 35%+; GINGRICH: 22% -: PAUL: 10%, AT MOST

I am told that Mitt Romney had an impressive performance this week before the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in New York, in which, alongside his criticism of President Obama’s policies and his support for Israel, he unequivocally endorsed a two-state solution and refused, according to the Washington Jewish Week, to promise moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem or pardoning convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

Perhaps Romney has realized, as I have always suspected, that overzealous, over-the-top endorsements of the Israeli government positions are not the optimal way of convincing independent Jewish voters to choose a Republican candidate in 2012 and that casting oneself as a responsible adult is a much wiser strategy.

It is with this in mind that I am submitting my first, wildly premature prediction of the Jewish vote, on the very shaky assumption that nothing dramatically major occurs before election day, such as economic meltdown, a military attack on Iran or a decision to place Sarah Palin on the Republican ticket once again.

So, here goes: Romney, as I have already suggested, is poised to pick up more Jewish votes than any other current Republican candidate, probably equaling the 35% given to Richard Nixon in 1972 (against McGovern) or to George Bush Sr. in 1988 (against Dukakis). If things go his way, Romney might even get close - though probably not surpass – the 39% picked up by Ronald Reagan in 1980 (against Jimmy Carter) or the 40% given to Eisenhower in 1956 (against Adlai Stevenson).

Newt Gingrich can count himself lucky, I believe, if he emulates George Bush Jr.’s 24% in 2004 (against John Kerry), or John McCain’s 22% in 2008 (against Barack Obama) or even Bush Jr 19% in 2000 (against Al Gore).

Ron Paul would probably compete with 1940 Wendell Wilkie, 1944 Thomas Dewey or 1972 Barry Goldwater for the title of the Republican who got the least Jewish votes – ever. Each of these Republicans garnered 10% of the Jewish vote, and Paul probably stands a good chance of setting a new world record.

3. IN YOUR KISHKES

This is a good a time as any – without having anyone specific in mind, of course - to recall the hawkish and conservative Barry Goldwater’s immortal 1964 Republican campaign slogan “In your heart, you know he’s right” as well as Lyndon Johnson’s zinging Democratic rejoinder “In your guts, you know he’s nuts”.

4. LOWE’S HARDWARE, BANK LEUMI AND MERDUCH’S LAMP

The public outcry against the decision made by Lowe’s home improvement chain to pull its sponsorship from the “All American Muslim” television show is eerily similar to the recent controversy in Israel over Bank Leumi’s inclusion of right-wing advocacy group Im Tirzu in a competition called “Two Million Good Reasons” aimed at providing bank donations to philanthropic social organizations.

In both cases, these multi-billion dollar enterprises not only made dumb decisions in the first place, they then went on to exacerbate their situation by refusing to recognize the gravity of the crisis and taking far too long to reverse course. And in both cases, protestors benefitted from the rapid-response capabilities of social media, especially Facebook.

In Lowe’s case, it was the truly weird decision to succumb to “pressure” exerted by a loony-tune anti-Muslim agitator in Florida who made the truly ludicrous claim that a mundane reality show about regular Muslim families integrating well into American society was somehow a propaganda ploy aimed at concealing the “fact” that Muslims are, by their very nature, radical Islamists bent on destroying Western civilization. In the Israeli equivalent, it was not only Bank Leumi’s initial decision to include Im Tirzu - a group that singlehandedly succeeded in casting the New Israel Fund as anti-Zionist traitors and is also behind much of the ongoing witch hunt against “anti-Zionist” lecturers in Israeli academia – among the 139 social service groups competing for the bank’s charitable donation, but then adding insult to injury by trying to explain the bank’s inexplicable position for almost a week, while its leftist customer base built up steam and momentum in an online boycott campaign.

Ultimately, however, the bank succumbed to the mounting threats of customers to transfer their banking business elsewhere, and cancelled the competition altogether. Now, of course, Im Tirzu has mounted its own boycott campaign, accusing Bank Leumi of caving in to Peace Now and other leftists, just as Lowe’s, the second largest hardware chain in the world, will probably have to face enraged anti-Muslim customers should they decide to withdraw from their original, misguided decision.

Which for some reason reminds me of a famous tale – called a “chizbat”, in Hebrew - from the days of the Palmah, the 1948 crack Haganah unit in which Ari Ben Canaan, aka Paul Newman, was a commander in Leon Uris’ Exodus. This story is about a guy called Merduch and his lamp.

One day, Merduch and his friends went for a boat ride on the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, but after a while they got bored, so Merduch’s friends started daring him to throw the lamp that he had brought with him into the sea. “Come on,” they said, “prove to us that you’re a man of character.”

“What does it have to do with character?” replied Merduch, “if I want, I’ll throw it.”

“No you won’t,” his friends replied, “you don’t have the strength of character.”

“Big deal”, replied Merduch, eyeing his friends dismissively. Then he took the lamp and threw it into the sea, turned to his friends and challenged them: “Nu, what do you say now?”

His friends looked at him with pity: “What do we say? We say that you have no character. Anyone can influence you.”

5. FRIEDMAN’S BIG BLUNDER

Finally, a short word, if I may, about the Thomas Friedman controversy. And let me state from the outset that I, like many journalists around the world, am a great admirer of the New York Times columnist’s way with words, am profoundly envious of his spectacular professional success, agree with many of his positions - including those pertaining to Israel - and have always considered the cry-baby attempts to describe him as an anti-Zionist, self-hating Jew to be spectacularly pathetic.

If he were an Israeli, Friedman would probably find himself somewhere between Meretz, Labor and Kadima, and until the day that these parties are also described as treacherous entities – and that day may come, mind you – I think that the attempts to “excommunicate” Friedman and to expel him from the proverbial pro-Israeli tent are damaging, self-defeating and thus, in a way, anti-Zionist in and of themselves.

That’s why I believe that Friedman’s controversial description of the standing ovations accorded to Netanyahu in his speech to Congress as “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” was a blunder of gargantuan proportions, not only because it is factually wrong, in my opinion, not only because it needlessly insults the Jews, not only because it does, after all, whiff of anti-Semitism - but mainly because with it, Friedman has provided his critics with all the “evidence” they need to rest their case and to convict him in the court of Jewish public opinion. And his attempt yesterday in his conversation with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt to excuse himself by substituting the word “engineered” for the “bought and paid for” won’t cut it, I suspect, and I would seriously advise him, were he to ask for my advice, to consider something more radical in order to regain his footing among Jewish readers.

But what do I know? I had expected the New York Times to publicly respond to Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer’s (very well-written) letter, which cited the newspaper’s alleged anti-Israel tilt as the reason why Netanyahu would decline an offer to write an opinion piece, as the newspaper had suggested. Instead, Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal sent a laconic reply in which he expressed regret for Netanyahu’s position and said that the offer remains open. It’s quite possible that this low-key response and refusal to engage in a public spat with Dermer is a better damage-control tactic from the newspaper’s point of view.

As for the wisdom of Netanyahu’s own strategy, I concur with those who believe that he would have served Israel’s interests better by publishing a well-written article – possibly penned by Dermer - in what is, after all, the world’s most important newspaper.

But, as I said, what do I know? Gingrich and many other Republicans are probably immensely pleased to see Netanyahu tangle with what is the epitome of the liberal, godless, secular and anti-American media mentioned above.

P.S.: A happy Hanukkah to everyone who persevered all the way down to this bottom line, and Merry Christmas to the tenacious Christians among you.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev