There once was a PR adage for would-be public figures, which stated: “When they tell you your sister is a whore, never deny it − even if you don’t even have a sister.”
I have always thought that while “Love for Sale” is a great Cole Porter song, the sort of transaction it refers to (sung by a woman soliciting her wares) should have been abolished ages ago. But, I do get the fact that by denying a declaration that was made, however unfounded, one confirms that there could be something there that merits a denial.
If that is so, what am I to do, I wonder, when told that our esteemed Finance Minister Yair Lapid is supposed to be my brother? Not having a ready answer, it suddenly dawned on me that Israel’s “new politics” − supposedly launched and led by Messrs. Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett − is actually suffused with the rhetoric of brotherly love.
Having marched into the ranks of the governing coalition with his newly found brother Bennett, Lapid reminded us at a press conference on May 29 that “all the people of Israel are brothers.” On the same occasion, Lapid also addressed the Haredim − whom he managed to bar from the coalition − as his “brethren.” Nor is this phraseology new to the minister himself: When he was still on the paper runway heading toward national politics, he published (on July 20, 2011, in his column in Yedioth Ahronoth) his manifesto under the heading, “The revolt of the slaves” − and it was addressed to “My brother slaves!”
In a sense, there is nothing new here, under the Mediterranean sun: Since time immemorial − biblical (of that more anon) or other, and also not only in Israel − the word “brother” has been used both as a term to denote “a male being, to express his relationship to others (male or female) as the child of the same parent or parents” − and in the sense of “including more distant kin,” as “a familiar mode of address to a man, esp. one whose name is not known,” and for “a fellow-clansman, fellow-citizen, fellow-countryman (one who claims the same patria or fatherland.” (All definitions from OED).
But that was not Lapid’s inspiration. He was probably echoing Israeli reality then, and particularly army lingo − specifically, the spirit of the famous Golani infantry brigade. Golani was once known not only for the valor of its fighters, but also for subordination problems. However, in the last two decades or so, it has come to embody the Israeli melting pot, bringing many people from all walks of life (including national-religious conscripts) into its close-knit ranks, and managing to create a unique esprit de corps. Unlike the elite army units where all fighters know each other by name, in Golani every soldier is a “bro” to his comrades-in-arms, and the brigade’s unofficial slogan is something like “Golani is ultra-pro, bro.”
Lapid was not a Golani fighter (he wrote for the army’s Bamahane weekly), and nor was Bennett, who served in the famed Sayeret Matkal unit, and in the elite Maglan in reserves. But Bennett did come into politics out of nowhere (unlike Lapid, whose face and fame preceded him into politics), out of the army (and high-tech). And they tell me that he does address his interlocutors and audiences with the army-style achai (“My brothers”), or in the singular, achi (“Yo, bro”).
In July 2012, when Bennett was gearing up to take over the leadership of the Habayit Hayehudi party − a 40-something newcomer challenging the veteran 60-something national-religious politician Zevulun Orlev − and the primary loomed, his campaign director Moshe Klughaft came up with the following jingle (in lame translation): “Here is something new, he is my brother, too.” After Bennett became chairman of Habayit Hayehudi and hit the campaign trail in advance of January’s election, “Bennett is a bro” was one of about 10 different slogans that were considered for use, aiming to appeal to young secular voters.
On Thursday, December 27, 2012, Bennett campaigned in the pub district in Ashdod. Indeed, one of the symptoms of the “new politics” was the fact that politicians of all parties were canvassing for votes in bars, with leaders relinquishing the pose of patronizing “adults” or “fathers” preaching to their “sons” in favor of the eye-level approach of acting like buddies, or bros, over drinks (on which taxes were just hiked by Brother Lapid).
On that particular night, Bennett went into the drinking den, and Klughaft, who couldn’t manage to squeeze himself in, overheard a young Ashdod patron telling another, “Bennett is a bro.” The campaign manager e-mailed his office on the spot, saying: “Guys, this is the best we have” − and as of December 30, 2012 (a date that should be hereinafter proclaimed Israeli Brotherhood Day) it became the party’s official line.
When Maariv-Makor Rishon broke the story, in the beginning of February, that a united front between the Lapid and Bennett parties had been in the making, possibly even before election day, and that they would sit in a Netanyahu government either together or not at all − it was only natural for the press to write about a “brotherly covenant.”
From that moment on, we have had no choice but to be each other’s brothers (and that includes you too, sisters), for after all, family is something you cannot choose, even if you are allowed to vote.
But who am I to rain on my family’s parade? I’m here just to point out that, all other things being unequal, it has been established by generations of eminent psychologists that a sibling relationship involves perhaps the most complex and potentially poisonous of interpersonal emotional mechanisms. The word that perhaps is most commonly associated with the word “siblings” is “rivalry.” But if you mistrust shrinks, don’t take my (or their) word for it.
The “bro approach” was supposed to appeal to the secular crowd, but it is always worthwhile to consult the Bible in such matters. I know Lapid sees himself as something of a commentator on the writ. The only time the phrase “brotherly covenant” appears in the Bible is in the Book of Amos, the prophet who foresees doom for Tyre, which had signed a pact with King Solomon, but “they delivered up a whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant” (1:9). Covenant it may have been, but brother, you’d better beware.
Genesis 13 recounts how Abram and his brother’s son, Lot, traveled together from Aram Naharayim to the Land of Canaan: “And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle ... And Abram said unto Lot: ‘Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we are brethren.”
The 17th-century Italian Talmudic scholar Rabbi Chaim ben Attar explains that Abram’s declaration is not supposed to put an end to the strife, but rather that strife is a built-in part of brotherhood. According to “Or Chaim” (Ben Attar’s commentary on the Bible), Abram complains to Lot that his own flocks are being mistreated by Lot’s servants, who act on the assumption that anyway, “it’s all in the family.” Not so, says Abram to Lot. We are related, true, but let’s not get carried away. Let’s part amicably. You go your way, and I’ll go my way (But I’ll get to Canaan before you. You’ll get stuck in Sodom).
You don’t enjoy nitpicking about verses and words, and want to take words of brotherhood at face value? No problem: Let me just remind you of Joseph and his brothers, of Jacob and Esau, of Leah and Rachel, of Isaac and Ishmael, and of the first-ever pair of brothers on earth, Cain and Abel. Do you really want to be your brother’s keeper?
But if you want to trust the whole world and its brother, by all means, go for it. Just remember that being a brother and/or having or adopting or coopting one, is a mixed blessing, with many volatile ingredients.