End of the Ashkenazi Era

Of course, one could simply close one's eyes and say that there is no such thing - but the truth is that in every election campaign, this one included, the ethnic demon plays a decisive role.

A day before the Labor primaries, Silvan Shalom said that Amir Peretz's victory would pose a problem for the Likud. Peretz exploited this statement to score another few votes at the polls - an outcome that Shalom had not intended, of course. He had only wanted to help himself. Shalom meant to say that while an earthquake was underway in Labor and a Sephardi from a peripheral town was assuming the party leadership, the Likud could not remain behind. It had to place a suitable candidate at its head - a "Tunisian" to run against a "Moroccan."

Uzi Cohen, the Likud's ubiquitous man in the field, openly said as much this week. Until now, he was a big supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but this week, Cohen defected to the Shalom camp, announcing: "After the upheaval in Labor, there are quite a few Knesset seats that are going to be distributed on an ethnic basis, so it would be best if Silvan were head of the Likud - There is no way that an Ashkenazi like Bibi could beat a Sephardi like Peretz." Shlomo Madmon, chairman of the Likud branch in Kfar Sava also joined Shalom's supporters, saying, "With all due respect to Bibi, we have to offer a response to Amir Peretz."

MK Haim Katz (Likud) declares that out in the field, revolution is afoot. People of Moroccan descent - Likudniks included - are speaking in loving terms about Peretz. "Dialna" - one of ours, they're saying. Just as the Ashkenazim once used to say in Yiddish "Unsere."

Of course, one could simply close one's eyes and say that there is no such thing - but the truth is that in every election campaign, this one included, the ethnic demon plays a decisive role. This time around, its victim is Netanyahu. Anyone who has paid a visit to the Likud Central Committee has noticed the large majority of people of Sephardi descent. If that is the case, how is it that until now the Likud has been led only by Ashkenazim? Because Menachem Begin was the founding father of the movement, and Ariel Sharon is considered a war hero. But Netanyahu has no special privileges. He is even conceived by the public as having hurt the weaker economic classes, most of whose members are Likud voters. Consequently, his rivals are trying hard to dissociate themselves from him.

The truth is entirely different. Netanyahu was an excellent finance minister. He pulled the economy out of the abyss, and led it to rapid growth and a decrease in unemployment. Without his courageous program, the economy would have found itself in deep crisis, one that would have involved a steep increase in the number of Israelis living under the poverty line. The cutbacks, tax reductions and tax reforms are what created the budget surplus that now enables the government to help the weak.

But in this state of political television shows, facts are not important. Only image is. It is not important that Shaul Mofaz (who suddenly disclosed that he, too, is "social") opposed, year after year, the transfer of budgets from defense to social causes. It is not important that Shalom was the first to chop away at minimal salary allowances. They are Sephardim, and Netanyahu is Ashkenazi. They can do it, he cannot.

In spite of all this, the election of Mofaz or Shalom to the Likud leadership would be a positive development. It would heal the ethnic wound, would complete the revolution that began in Labor and would symbolize the end of the era of Ashkenazi domination.

At the same time, will the end of the era of generals arrive, as well? Will the time come when the top political rank does not originate in the security forces? If the conflict with the Palestinians were to end, the entire agenda would change, and the relative advantage of the generals would be eliminated. Generals would no longer be able to move so easily between the highest echelons of the army, Mossad and Shin Bet, to the political leadership.

This is one of the reasons why the generals are in no rush to end the conflict. They know that one of the most powerful factors influencing the voters is fear. Which is why they try to frighten, to pump up the volume on threats, to brandish the Iranian missiles, to carry out targeted assassinations and to always, but always, keep the finger close to the trigger. Conversely, a civilian leader does not view the other side through the gunsight, and his chances of resolving the conflict are therefore better.

Perhaps, it may be hoped, the revolution is just around the corner. Not only the end of the Ashkenazi era, but also the end of the age of the generals.