The State of Israel is sick. It needs a doctor, but to its great misfortune it is being treated by a medical clown. Between these two professions there is something of a difference: When a clown does surgery, what starts out with a laugh ends in tears.
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It’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yes or no, he is the sole issue in this election. Those who want to bring him and his wife back for four more years (or less, depending on the chance of renewed legislation against Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom) will vote for him. Anyone who is tired of Netanyahu’s faded appearance will vote against him.
Netanyahu understands his vulnerability in these terms. This is why he sought opponents against whom he could muster a majority: U.S. President Barack Obama. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Zionist Union co-leader MK Tzipi Livni. Ex Prime Minister’s Resident chief caretaker Meni Naftali. The clumsy effort failed. Zionist Union co-leader MK Isaac Herzog, who as candidate for prime minister seems no match for Netanyahu, has been smart enough to minimize his presence to seeing-yet-unseen, and thus stop the general campaign from turning into a duel. The conflict remains, therefore, Bibi vs. Netanyahu, Groucho Marx against the face looking out at him from the mirror, with defeat on the way for both candidates.
On the intellectual level, the fact that former heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service have come out against him is important. Not because Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin are gifted with higher understanding; before Netanyahu, they loyally served – without batting an eye, collaborators with corrupt prime ministers – Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Dagan and Diskin’s contribution is different. Citizens who are furious over the bitter reality they see might wonder if there is some other, hidden, secret universe open only to a few, which, if they were allowed to enter its inner sanctum with these select ones, they would necessarily identify with the leader’s decisions. There is no secret. What the Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence know is precisely what everyone seeks to know, and there is no reason to give Netanyahu credit that in the deepest darkness, the situation is closer to his view and gives greater justification to his way.
On the emotional level, the issue of the elections is shame or pride. Israelis, including many Likud loyalists, are ashamed of Netanyahu and his destructiveness, and tend to distance themselves from him. Netanyahu tried to combat the feeling that this time it is shameful to support him with his trip to Washington. He wasn’t going after Iran in Congress, he was out to restore national pride in him as a leader – the glorious, well-spoken representative of Israel (applause applause), the most beloved, well-groomed child in kindergarten. The goal was not achieved.
Netanyahu is a worn face in a time when new faces have the advantage. Between the new faces and the old are those who are not new but who have not yet withered on the vine, among them the great Rabbi Yair Lapid, the surprising devotee of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Lapid is one of the three figures holding Yosef’s robe, along with Yahad chairman MK Eli Yishai and Shas chairman MK Arye Dery. Last May Lapid’s education minister, Shay Piron, in response to a High Court petition by attorney Eran Lev and the organization Be Free Israel against the separation of boys and girls in Orthodox schools, embraced a religious ruling by Yosef: “All educational leaders of mixed schools and youth movements will bear their iniquity, and their sin is the unfathomably great.” Piron relied on Yosef’s ruling, which also mentions the messiah, son of Joseph, and the war of Gog and Magog; the evil inclination that does not rule relations between men and women during eulogies; and Maimonides’ recommendation that men and women not eat and drink together so as not to commit a sin. This is a mockery of his party Yesh Atid’s pretense to be the party of modernity.
Lapid’s future, with Ovadia’s past, is strengthened by another of Piron’s idols, the Baba Sali. If only Lapid could get the late kabbalist to exorcize the dybbuk – out, Bibi, out!