The Virus Threatening Bibi

The rude remarks Ya'alon made about the elites and the left have become a strategic threat to Netanyahu.

In the tangled psycho-political commentary surrounding Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon's appearance at a Jewish Leadership Movement meeting, one of the most important dimensions has been lost: Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unknowingly marked the boundaries of what is allowed in 2009 Israeli discourse.

The political fashion police have determined unequivocably that this season, one may not insult the left or the elites, which in an archaic lexicon are still synonymous. It is acceptable, if not even desirable, to insult the Arab public and fulminate against its elected officials, as Yisrael Beiteinu and its leader are doing. It is certainly permissible to lash out at the judicial system, as Shas does. One may show empathy for yeshiva students who run over Ethiopian immigrants, and tell the elected representatives of the Russian-speaking public that they do not really belong in this country. None of the above will get one summoned for clarifications by the prime minister.

However, one must be held accountable for insulting the "elites" - if anyone can still define this amorphous entity. Not because the honor of this group has been maligned, but because of Netanyahu's complex relationship with it. Netanyahu knows that these withering elites cannot help much any more, but they still have the power to do quite a bit of harm.

Indeed, this is about the fashion of norms, which come and go like tight jeans. After all, Netanyahu, who is now raking his deputy over the coals for insulting the left/elites, was caught during his first term of office whispering to Rabbi Kaduri, "These leftists have forgotten what it is to be Jewish." True, he did not use the word "virus," but amnesia is also a serious disease. His opinion of the left, that is, the elites, was - and may still be - no different than Ya'alon's.

Still, one essential thing has changed: Netanyahu has learned a lesson. He realized the elites' importance not only to his image, but also to his survival. This is one of his main conclusions following his previous term in office; the virus Ya'alon described to Feiglin's people threatens first and foremost the prime minister.

Ya'alon's sense of having deep roots leads him to believe he can get along fine even without the groups he so rudely excoriated. Netanyahu, still trapped in the trauma of rejection, is certain he cannot manage without them. Mainly, he doesn't want to.

Netanyahu owed his election in 1996 to his ability to cobble together a coalition of minorities that bypassed the elites. But it was this camp that brought about his downfall and gave rise to the legendary "Bibi hatred." His forced attempt to build an alternative neo-conservative elite, along the lines of the American model, failed.

He was simply ahead of his time. In the decade since then, Israeli society has birthed a neo-conservative elite including Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Avigdor Lieberman. And yet, Netanyahu finds it difficult to free himself from the trauma of the loss of the old elites, and he looks longingly at the natural way the left-elite has accepted opposition chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni, even though she, too, is not originally one of their own. The rude remarks Ya'alon made about the elites and the left have become a strategic threat to Netanyahu, and precipitated the prime minister's reactions no less than his deputy's statements about Homesh and the illegal outposts.