Opinion

What Happened to Gilad Erdan?

Erdan's practical, logical manner was replaced by anger, incitement and populism.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Olivier Fitoussi

When Gilad Erdan was minister of environmental protection, he acted with intelligence and thoroughness, choosing substance over political nitpicking. Even if he, like many in the post, did not plan on becoming environmental protection minister, Erdan dedicated himself to the mission.

As communications minister, also, he left a positive impression. Among other things, he was hard-working and showed political courage when he decided to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority with the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

After the 2015 election, Erdan was appointed public security minister, strategic affairs minister and information minister (Hasbara). It’s hard to believe it’s the same man. His practical, logical manner was replaced by anger, incitement and populism.

He accused an entire sector of the population of arson attacks, rushed to judgment in the case of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan before the investigation even began and recently we learned he is creating a database of people who support anti-Israel boycotts.

When the Haaretz editorial criticized this step, Erdan wrote on his Facebook page: “Haaretz is disconnected from the reality in Israel,” and promised “to act so those who want to bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish state will pay for their actions.”

What has happened to Erdan since he was the minister of environmental protection? It seems that he was captured by a common belief among center-left politicians, that in order to appeal to voters you must do the following:

1. Make terrible accusations against Israeli Arabs and members of the Joint List, and demonstrate sincere, inhumane, vicious hatred toward Arabs in general. Erdan and company believe that if they display a rage that hints at latent anti-Arab racism, right-wing voters will associate it with the hatred that burns within themselves and will feel a sense of relief as a result.

2. Speak the language of Jews who are “becoming stronger” in their Judaism. Not the language of ultra-Orthodox Jews, but rather tossing in a few expressions of sincere, tribal excitement for Judaism and of a deep emotional response to Jewish communal ceremonies, especially ones that make explicit reference to the Jewish nation. An example from Erdan’s Facebook page: “Today I recited Psalms with soldiers and police officers who guard our Tomb of the Patriarchs [in Hebron], and I always remember who helps them from above to guard. I was moved.”

3. Verbally attack leftists; most important, sling mud at human rights organizations (which should be called “leftist organizations”). Democracy is for sissies, and human rights are for Israel’s enemies. By the way, setting the tone of discourse in this category is the right-wing Israeli rapper “the Shadow” (Yoav Eliasi), with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid following close behind.

4. Criticize the media. This step is best accomplished by going after Haaretz. Both Erdan and Lapid are golden in this respect: As soon as Haaretz criticized them, they were awarded the official right-wing seal of approval — kashrut, if you will.

The problem with these four steps is that when politicians imagine their voters as bloodthirsty individuals, demanding that their elected representatives behave inhumanely toward those they have labeled enemies, they miss out on a large group of Israelis that does not see eye-to-eye with The Shadow on one hand, nor with B’Tselem on the other.

They are giving up on the many Israelis who would be happy with a sane, decent and practical right wing — just as Erdan was in his previous incarnation.