In the 1988 U.S. presidential election, the Republican George H.W. Bush ran against the Democrat Michael Dukakis. To attract young voters, Bush chose as his running mate a young, relatively unknown politician, Dan Quayle. The two candidates for vice president faced off in a televised debate. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis’ running mate, chided his rival for his young age. Quayle replied that his experience was as great as that of John F. Kennedy when he ran for president in 1960.
Bentsen looked at Quayle scornfully and spoke, with exquisite articulation, the words that have entered the American political hall of fame as one of the great put-downs of televised debates: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
That event came to mind when I read MK Stav Shaffir’s Haaretz op-ed a week ago, “How to unify the left and save Israel.” She complains that on the eve of the Labor primary I wrote that she was a “girl” in order to “belittle” and “ridicule” her. “Only journalists like Verter,” the MK wrote, “still think it’s legitimate to call a 34-year-old Knesset member (the age at which Yitzhak Rabin headed the army’s Northern Command) ‘a girl.’”
Yitzhak Rabin, no less, was given the honor of being Shaffir’s Jack Kennedy. Why not David Ben-Gurion, who at that age became secretary general of the Histadrut labor federation?
Well, so be it. The tolerance of paper is unlimited, and so is arrogance and hubris in lethal doses. I wasn’t a friend of Rabin’s and I didn’t serve with him, but my work brought me into contact with him and I knew him, and Shaffir is so much not Yitzhak Rabin, who even at the height of his fame and the high position he occupied, I never found to be as full of himself as she is.
The main problem in her article was that I didn’t write the comment she attributed to me. Here’s what I wrote in my column of June 28, on the eve of the Labor primary: “In the Labor Party’s leadership primary, to be held on Tuesday, two of the contenders are Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir – ‘the kids,’ as they’re called by party members.”
Moreover, I also wrote about what I consider a problematic trend that’s common political and public life in Israel, contrary to most European countries: a preference for older people over younger candidates in leadership positions.
Shaffir indulged in an ugly manipulation. She attributed the word “girl” to me, turned it into a gender thing (even though one of “the kids” was Shmuli) and used that as the basis for her shopworn thesis: unending self-victimization and whining over the wrong inflicted on her by “journalists like Verter,” who disrespect women.
Unfortunately, Haaretz fell into the trap that Shaffir, the self-styled queen of “transparency,” laid for it. Her opinion piece was published, including the fabrication. But just as every balloon finally bursts, so too every lie is finally exposed, especially one that’s built on foundations of hatred and passions and tailored with coarse seams of hollow slogans and accusations.
In my 23 years at Haaretz I have covered dozens of women in politics. All of them have had to work harder than their male colleagues in an arena tainted with gender discrimination both among fellow politicians and among the voters. These women range from Shulamit Aloni, Geula Cohen, Ora Namir and Limor Livnat to Shelly Yacimovich, Tzipi Livni, Ayelet Shaked and Zehava Galon.
And that’s only a partial list. Some of them are slightly more identified with the feminist struggle than Shaffir, and with demanding redress when other women are affronted, not just themselves. Over the years, some have angrily accused me of being unfair in what I wrote. None of them have accused me, ever, of hating women.
That myth is the exclusive preserve of Shaffir. In the absence of substantive arguments, she prefers to take the populist dialogue to her comfort zone: “chauvinism,” “misogyny” and ageism.
By the way, Shaffir’s article was cut and copy-edited before landing on the op-ed page. Removed from it – without my knowledge and to my regret – were terms that were intended to insult me because of my age, 59. Well, at my age, Yitzhak Rabin – Shaffir’s alter ego, didn’t you know? – was still 11 years from being elected prime minister a second time. Fortunately, he was spared a phenomenon like Shaffir. She would have dragged him into assisted living.
Patriotism, we know, is the last refuge of a scoundrel, while an affront that becomes an unrestrained rolling provocation is the refuge of those who are immune to criticism. All criticism.