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It was Lenin who is supposed to have coined the appellation "useful idiots" to describe those who were prepared to justify any and all misdeeds of the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. The coterie of acolytes gathered around the prime minister form a similar group. Some of them are recent arrivals to the Likud ranks, while others are party veterans who have shamelessly turned their backs on the principles that have guided Likud policies over the years. They are Sharon's useful idiots.

As far as most of them are concerned, Sharon can do no wrong. They insist that they feel perfectly at home in the Likud, that they would not think of moving to another political party, that it is the Likud which has to adjust its policies to fit the new Sharon line and not the other way around. But suspicion is rife that were Sharon to bolt the Likud and form a new party, many of them would fight tooth and nail to get on his ticket and compete against the Likud in the next elections.

As far as they are concerned, Sharon's disengagement plan was an act of national salvation that at the last minute rescued Israel from becoming a binational state and preserved it as a "Jewish and democratic state." They see nothing wrong in using the Israel Defense Forces against Israeli citizens. To them, the IDF is simply a tool of the government in power and its mission does not have to be confined to the defense of the country.

In their eyes, those who opposed the disengagement plan are a bunch of messianic extremists who will push the Likud to the extreme right of the political spectrum and into permanent opposition. In other words, when the Likud in the past election campaign presented the voters with a platform that opposed any unilateral withdrawal and won a spectacular victory at the polls, it managed to pull the wool over the voters' eyes, but, as far as they are concerned, it will never happen again.

They fall into two categories: those who unequivocally and enthusiastically supported the uprooting of the settlers in Gush Katif, and the fence straddlers, who continue to insist that they were opposed to this move but lend their support to Sharon. As ridiculous as it may seem, the latter claim that their continued presence in the Sharon government is essential to keep Sharon from engaging in even more deviations from Likud policies.

As the Likud primaries approach, they all roll out the Unity banner. Who does not want unity? Paper over the policy differences wrenching the very guts out of the Likud and present the electorate with a united Likud Party that stands for nothing. According to them, what the voter wants is the brand name and not the content. If this does not sound particularly reasonable, they will remind you that in any case, the disengagement is already behind us and we can all unite - supporters and opponents of the disengagement - around saying nothing at all.

What's more, if, God forbid, Sharon were to be defeated in the Likud primaries, the party would be voted out of power in the next elections, and there would go all the jobs Likud ministers have been handing out these past few years. If that does not convince you, what will?

To top all this, the horror of deposing an incumbent prime minister is held up. As if incumbents have never been voted out of office or political parties have never replaced an incumbent with another candidate, seen as more suitable, for an upcoming election. Or as if Sharon himself had not challenged Yitzhak Shamir for leadership of the Likud at a time when the latter was prime minister.

To make all this nonsense sound reasonable, they expect Sharon to commit himself that, win or lose, he will remain in the Likud. Seemingly forgotten is Sharon's commitment to abide by the verdict of the Likud member referendum on the disengagement plan. A commitment that disappeared into thin air once the results of the referendum became known. Who would believe this kind of commitment even if it were to be undertaken by Sharon?

To back up their ludicrous claims, the Israeli public is bombarded on an almost daily basis by public opinion polls, the results of canvassing by telephone, in the most unscientific manner, samples of five hundred Likud voters, Likud members, members of the Likud Central Committee and the general public, all of which presumably proves that without Sharon, the Likud will lose the next elections and Israel will be governed by a Sharon-Peres coalition in the years to come. The useful idiots remind us that the results to be expected from such a government would be worse than Oslo. So Likud members better vote for Sharon in the coming primaries.

One can only imagine the derision with which Sharon watches these antics, probably saying to himself: "There is really nothing more useful than useful idiots."