Not Another Toothpaste Commercial

In the election broadcasts, two former prime ministers who are whitewashing and disguising their failures by pretending they have changed are challenging a younger woman candidate by harping on her lack of strategic experience.

"Bad news is good news." Such was the motto of Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, in a talk he gave while visiting Israel several years ago.

Turner offered an example: If a young man helps an old lady cross the street, it's not news, but if he then turns around and rapes her, you've got yourself a headline. People are morbidly curious about bad news. They don't want fairy tales.

In the election broadcasts, two former prime ministers who are whitewashing and disguising their failures by pretending they have changed are challenging a younger woman candidate by harping on her lack of strategic experience. Now they are busy fashioning a demon.

In the days of Labor precursor Mapai, the demon was Menachem Begin, who was portrayed as a fascist. Posters of him, his arm raised in a Nazi salute, were plastered on the walls of buildings in Tel Aviv.

Tzipi Livni's chief rival is Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, not Ehud Barak. While Barak holds the record for losing the race for prime minister by the largest margin of votes in Israeli election history, it seems reasonable to assume he will hook up with Livni if she does well enough at the polls to put together a government.

For now, though, Barak is preoccupied with himself, or so it seemed on the first day of the broadcasts. It wasn't the best of days. After he bragged about the "long period of quiet to which we can look forward in the south," thanks to Operation Cast Lead and the power of deterrence it has brought us, an Israeli soldier was killed in a Hamas ambush and the exchange of fire started up again.

But that didn't stop Barak from tooting his own horn in his first election ad, focusing on his record and his ability to "look truth in the eye and keep a steady hand on the wheel."

Livni, less elegiac but more gutsy, sounded the Ariel Sharon battle cry: Onward with Kadima means yes to the Land of Israel, but not all of the Land of Israel. It's been a long time since so much truth has been packed into one short sentence.

True, Livni has no experience as prime minister, but with Netanyahu we experienced things we wouldn't want repeated. Kadima's PR people are preparing a fully documented, all-out attack on Netanyahu's lies - his claim that he was offered the job of finance minister of Italy; his insistence that he remembers the Kalaniyot (our nickname for the British soldiers who ran the show here before Israeli independence) although he was born after the Brits were gone; his Yom Kippur War stories.

Netanyahu and Barak like to cite the example of Yitzhak Rabin, who failed in his first attempt as prime minister, but went on in his second term to become one of Israel's greatest leaders. What both of them conveniently forget is that 15 years passed between Rabin's fall from power and his return to the helm.

But Danny Bloch, editor of the now defunct Davar newspaper, reminded me that even in his days as a failing prime minister, Rabin's administration slashed inflation, rehabilitated the army after the Yom Kippur War and signed an interim agreement with Egypt. Not bad - especially compared to zero accomplishments by Netanyahu and Barak.

From what we have seen thus far, one gets the impression that Netanyahu is up to his old antics, making sure not to say anything that might be misconstrued as a commitment and get him into trouble later on.

In the past, he talked about improving the economic situation of the Palestinians as a way of resolving the conflict. Maybe he should ask his father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, if he would have given up a Jewish state in exchange for British financial assistance.

While Barak obsesses over his own genius and Netanyahu conjures up images of himself as the next prime minister, the only ones who are speaking the truth are Eli Yishai and Avigdor Lieberman.

They said everything that Netanyahu didn't want to say, while pretending that Likud is a centrist party.

Anyone who remembers Shas in its early days, with all its singing and praying, saw a right-wing party this week whose leader made it clear he would join a coalition with Likud. The cynical among us might even suspect they have initialed a contract.

Compared to Netanyahu, Lieberman came across as the most trustworthy person on the screen. He didn't need a scriptwriter. He said what he thought: "No loyalty, no citizenship."

It would be interesting to know how he would react if an American senator said such a thing about Jewish citizens of the United States who support Israel.

If Lieberman and Shas support Netanyahu, the specter of the right coming to power is a near and present danger. Netanyahu, as usual, is not saying what's what. But it is clear that a victory for the rightist bloc is a surefire recipe for confrontation with the Obama administration.

At this critical juncture, a serious television debate between the three top contenders is vital. We want to hear the truth from their mouths.

What we need now is to hear their plans for Israel's future. We don't need another toothpaste commercial.