Where Lieberman Talks and No One Protests

Yesterday I spent the morning at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, and not just in honor of the Herzliya Conference. My students were taking their final exams for the semester, and the lecturer must be present if students need clarifications.

A familiar figure passed me, whom I quickly realized was John Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations. I asked myself: Are we so short on warmongers that we had to bring this one here to go gaga over us?

The Bush era is dead in Washington, but it's alive and well in Herzliya. Many Israelis find it hard to part from the good old days of power for power's sake, of the faith in the power of power as the only god. Today, in the new era, people are speaking completely differently in Washington. "Smart power," they say.

Not long ago I read that scientists believe they can bring back the dinosaurs. Now they have more proof: Benjamin Netanyahu, Uzi Arad and John Bolton, who next week will once more lope across the wide-open spaces as if they had never become fossilized.

The Herzliya Conference has become a central podium of Israeli discourse in recent years, more important than the Knesset podium. On Monday, the person who was "privileged to give the keynote speech" from that podium was Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. From it, he attacked the media and the State Prosecutor's Office, two very convenient targets for the poisoned arrows of a scheming archer. The more he attacks, the more Knesset seats he gets.

When Lieberman mentioned the probes against him, and even raised the possibility that he would be investigated over the Arlozoroff murder of 1933, he "won smiles," it was reported.

The problem is not Lieberman, the hero of the Aswan Dam and Tehran. The problem is the legitimacy accorded him on all sides. What exactly were they laughing about there at the Herzliya Conference? Not one word of opprobrium was heard, not one lecturer or student joined a protest vigil.

Both the rabble and its supporters strengthen fascist parties until they take their place in government. They do this out of weakness or fear, or because they neglected to study history. The rabble is not a single entity. There is a lower rabble and an elite rabble, and it is difficult to know whose rabble-rousing is more dangerous.

It's like the words in a poem by David Avidan: "I risk a declaration that will not, it seems, elevate my popularity. There is no spiritual elite in this country, there is no spiritual elite in this country, and I do not know what we have instead."