Analysis |

Israel's Joe McCarthy on a Witch Hunt, and Netanyahu Keeps Mum

Coalition whip says Rabin's assassination wasn't political and promises to expose 'leftists' on Facebook. All on behalf of his boss.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition whip David Bitan at a Likud faction meeting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition whip David Bitan at a Likud faction meeting.Credit: Emil Salman

In contrast to expectations, Rabin Square was filled with people at Saturday night’s rally. Tens of thousands arrived in order to express their longings for the leader who was murdered 21 years ago, but even more so to express their frustration, anger and revulsion over the face of this country’s present leadership.

The rally’s organizers, the heads of the Zionist Union party, owe its success partly to coalition whip David Bitan (Likud), who was responsible for the fact that many people who hadn’t planned on coming made their way to the square. Thus, even he can bring about something positive.

Two jaw-dropping and eye-popping utterings came from the mouth of this parliamentarian who doesn’t stop giving: in an interview in Holon to journalists Nechama Duek and Rotem Danon he found it necessary to correct a widely-held misconception: Rabin’s murder, he said, was not a political one.

“It wasn’t a politician who committed the murder but a person who wanted to stop certain processes.”

A rally marking the 21st anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination takes place at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 5, 2016. Credit: Moti Milrod

So that is what Yigal Amir was. A blocker of processes. A functionary. The unbridled incitement by rightist leaders in the preceding months, the demonstration in Zion Square in Jerusalem, the marchers carrying a coffin – the common factor in all these is Benjamin Netanyahu – have no bearing on the matter.

The second utterance by the coalition thug has let the cat out of the bag for the umpteenth time: it’s been out of the bag so many times lately that it barely has time to get back in for a short rest.

One of the important Likud Knesset members, a politician who is very close to Netanyahu, and who serves as his emissary for liquidation and extermination of whatever is left of Israeli media, sits there and says without blinking that he and some “friends” have been following the Facebook pages of journalists in the new public broadcasting association.

“They are leftists! Leftists! They want to realize their own agenda!” And today he would expose them, he promised. If some hot-headed and brainwashed right-wing extremist wishes to stop processes, he’ll know who they are and where to go.

Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the balcony of a hotel overlooking Zion Square during a right-wing demonstration in 1995.Credit: David Mizrahi

One could argue that the media’s interminable coverage of Bitan is ridiculous and exaggerated and hysterical. This is what they thought of communist-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s in the U.S.  He was only a senator. Not a president or vice-president, not an important cabinet member. Until the joke became a national tragedy.

McCarthyism has since become a synonym for political persecution, witch hunts, incitement and removing the protection of opposition forces and segments of the population that oppose a regime. On Saturday in Holon, David Bitan introduced the term “Bitanism” into Israeli politics. The McCarthy days are considered a black and embarrassing stain in modern U.S. history.

One doesn’t need a deep perspective in order to diagnose that the Bitan era is to Israel what the McCarthy one was to the U.S.  Thugishness and ignorance, the insolence and loss of any shame have never known better days than the days of David Bitan. He makes Miri Regev look tolerant and enlightened, liberal and cultured.

This is the character who leads the parliamentary coalition in Israel. He is the person the prime minister listens to. He is the character who takes part in every discussion, meeting or political counseling at the prime minister’s bureau.

Senator Joseph McCarthy.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bitan is the politician who reflects more than his colleagues, in the most distilled and core manner, the wishes, increasing caprices and disturbing thinking of the prime minister. It would be a mistake to think that Netanyahu threw Bitan under the bus as he did with Likud minister Ofir Akunis, after he reached an agreement with Kahlon to set up a committee to examine the future of the broadcasting association.

Saturday’s performance shows that Bitan is still Netanyahu’s long and crude arm and that the two are well-coordinated, on their way to run over all of us.

Anyone who believes that Bitan and “some friends” privately and voluntarily monitored the Facebook pages of marked journalists in order to fish for incriminating evidence against them is free to hold on to his belief.  We venture another guess. Anyone who believes that Bitan is conducting a witch hunt against journalists in the new broadcasting association on his own is either an idiot or unconscious. Bitan is the emissary, the long arm, a man for all seasons for Benjamin Netanyahu, who was silent on Saturday, not dissociating himself from Bitan’s words even after Shabbat ended. Usually, tweets, postings and media announcements emerge as soon Shabbat ends, but this time there was silence. This was tantamount to acquiescence.

On Saturday at Rabin Square, the head of the opposition and the Zionist Union, MK Isaac Herzog, told the crowd that the era of unity and negotiations was over and that his party would not join Netanyahu’s coalition. Did Herzog discover only on Saturday that Netanyahu has “crossed all the red lines?" Isn’t that what has been happening here daily and hourly for the last 18 months, ever since this government was formed?

The public divorce Herzog gave Netanyahu came mainly because the groom lost interest. These two gentlemen had planned to come under the bridal canopy after the Jewish holiday season, at the start of the Knesset’s winter session. The negotiations they held over the last weeks of the recess were very intense, including going into the tiniest details of a potential partnership. However, things didn’t work out. What new red line was crossed since then? Did David Bitan rail at the media? 

The removal of the unity option strengthens two central coalition players. Moshe Kahlon’s standing is augmented, particularly on the backdrop of the broadcasting corporation crisis. Naftali Bennet also has cause to be satisfied with Herzog slamming the door ahead of the expected crisis over the evacuation of Amona.

In any case, one could say that Herzog’s announcement is better late than never. In the same breath one could say that after this episode was finished, one could still, under certain circumstances, continue with another spin-off.