Benny Gantz must surely regret his “anemone speech," as it came to be known, in early August 2014. Seeking to cheer up a beleaguered Israeli public after a full month of fighting in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, the then-IDF chief of staff made a rookie’s mistake. Against the backdrop of a temporary 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Gantz waxed poetic about a “red south” that will soon be blessed with “anemones, flowers and stability” for many years to come. Less than 48 hours later, the fighting resumed, ferocious as before.
“The final chord of his tenure as chief of staff was ‘go pick anemones’ and little four-year old Daniel Tragerman was killed,” Culture Minister Miri Regev said Monday, in a blatant logical fallacy. By the same token she could have said “Benjamin Netanyahu promised Hamas would suffer and the boy is dead”, or “Avigdor Lieberman left Likud because Netanyahu wouldn’t destroy Hamas [he did so during the 2014 campaign as well], and little Daniel.” or even “The Press Council rejected complaints against Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy and three days later the boy was dead,” etc. There is no causal connection between Gantz’s speech and Tragerman’s tragic death, of course, but Regev knows her rabid right-wing audience: Their thirst to be titillated by hate far exceeds their yearning to be moved by logic.
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Regev was roundly and rightly slammed for her obnoxious linkage. She cynically exploited the killing of a young boy to smear the name of the man who seems to pose the greatest electoral threat to Netanyahu, the Likud and her own prospects of continuing to serve as a cabinet minister. In her defense, however, Regev is only emulating true masters. She belongs to a political party whose head habitually blames George Soros/The New Israel Fund/leftist NGOs for all the country’s woes, from international criticism to the plight of African asylum seekers. She lives in a country that admires Donald Trump, grand wizard of diversion and incitement, who specializes in similarly distorted attacks against his rivals and critics, including, and even especially, if they happen to be former generals or senior security officials.
By sheer coincidence - the concept is apparently alien for Regev - at the same time that she was assaulting Gantz, Trump was waging a war of words with the highly-decorated and widely-respected former U.S. Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the 2011 assassination of Osama Bin Laden. In Trump’s eyes, McRaven’s long years as a Navy SEAL and commander of U.S. Special Operations pale in comparison with his post-retirement criticism of Trump’s presidency.
Just as Trump, who never served his country, tried to diminish the bravery of John McCain during his captivity in Vietnam because he dared confront him, and compared U.S. intelligence services to Nazi Germany for reporting on Russia’s efforts to get him elected, so he tried to discredit McRaven this week by claiming, with no basis in reality, that Bin Laden could have been apprehended much sooner. Trump, after all, claims to be a better military strategist than all his generals. Regev, by the same token, is telling Likud stalwarts that Gantz-Shmantz, only Netanyahu and the Likud know how to safeguard Israel’s security.
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High on the long list of the long-lasting damage inflicted by Trump, he has proven to like-minded politicians throughout the world that personal attacks, odious and preposterous as they may be, get the job done. In a hyper-polarized political arena, as it exists today in both Israel and the U.S., decades of volunteering, serving one’s country and even risking one’s life are rendered meaningless. The only criterion is - are you with me or are you against me, do you silently salute no matter what inanity the President happens to produce or do you speak your mind and protest his wanton misrepresentations.
In the world according to Regev and the rest of the Israeli right, which increasingly wallows in its cesspool of loathing, even senior and highly-decorated military officers must be “in the same head as us”, as Lieberman once said of senior government officials. Otherwise, it’s open season, they’re fair game, and their detractors, from Trump to Regev, are coming to the hunt with a license to kill.