An Open Letter to David Levy [10]

The Honorable David Levy
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dear Sir:
When you established “Gesher” — which calls itself a “national social movement” — many thought that for the first time in many years we were seeing in this country a political movement based not on different positions vis a vis the Jewish-Arab conflict, nor on an ethnic or religious basis, but rather a movement based on social class. “Gesher” could have represented in Israeli politics what was once called “the working class” and today — “the underprivileged”.

When you joined the Likud during the election campaign, and afterwards when you joined the Netanyahu government, many thought that you would be a voice for those who cast their votes for you — a voice for social justice. And also, it was thought that you would be a voice for the peace process.
From the very first day, the Prime Minister and his aides have treated you with contempt. Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud is not Menachem Begin and his Likud. There is no place for you in this party, or in this government.
That’s why I see in the crisis which has grown up between you and the Prime Minister a golden opportunity for you and for “Gesher” to take the bold step and leave the government of cutbacks and a frozen peace process.
Together with other political forces — for example, the “social lobby” of the Labor Party, the remnants of the historic Mapam, the new immigrants party and “Shas” — it is possible to create a broad political movement which inscribes on its banners: “Social Justice.”
Politicians from the left and the right, such as Frankel and Meridor in the Likud or the liberals from “Shinui” and the Labor Party, will be excluded from such a movement.
Mr. Levy, many in Israel respect you for your moderate positions on the question of peace, for your ability — demonstrated during your previous term as Foreign Minister, and above all, for your commitment to working people, and not only to the rich of this country. I appeal to you: quit the Netanyahu government, and establish together with others a broad political movement for social justice and peace.
Kibbutz Ein Dor, 8 August 1996
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Uneasy Lies the Head Who Wears a Kipa
by Adam Simms
The image they prefer is rock-solid support. The reality is closer to Silly Putty, the children’s play-toy that takes on the shape and coloration of whatever it’s pressed against.
These are the leaders of American Jewry’s organizations, responding to Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s new prime minister. With few exceptions they have — surprise! surprise! — fallen in line behind the Israeli electorate’s new dispensation. Some sing his praises; others whistle in the dark, trying to reassure themselves that Bibi won’t derail the peace process — as if saying so will make it so.
In such circumstances, Bibi’s trip to New York last month took on the aura of a triumphal return of an almost-native son, given Bibi’s acquaintance with a wide swath of American machers dating from his stint here as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. In addition to the usual round of public chores — including an obligatory pep-talk to the grandiloquently self-proclaimed Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — he was the star of an “intimate” cocktail party and dinner in his honor, hosted by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, who invited a hundred or so friends and associates. Lauder, of course, is the right-wing millionaire credited with introducing Netanyahu to Arthur Finkelstein, the American political consultant whose polling and media advice is in turn credited with helping Bibi win election with a razor-thin majority.
For the moment, American Jewry’s leaders and the led seem to be on the same honeymoon wavelength. A survey of 860 American Jews, commissioned by the Labor-affiliated Israel Policy Forum in Manhattan, and conducted July 2-6, demonstrates the Silly-Putty Principle. For example:
* Asked whether they “strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of the peace process initiated by Yitzhak Rabin and continued by Shimon Peres,” 52.5 percent strongly approved and 28.1 percent somewhat approved.
* Queried who they would have voted for had they been eligible to cast ballots in Israel’s election, 59.1 percent would have chosen Peres, as against 30.7 percent who would have favored Netanyahu. (The rest backed the perennial loser “Don’t Know.”)
* But, oh, what a difference a month makes! When asked to describe to what degree they favored or disfavored Bibi now that he was “the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel,” Bibi swept the field: 61.5 percent were either very or somewhat favorably disposed to him, as opposed to 29.1 percent who were somewhat or very unfavorably inclined. Bye-bye, Shimon Who? Hello, Net-an-ya-hu!
Still, Bibi’s support is soft, and his Achilles’ tendon is “the religious issue.” However much majorities of American Jews blindly pledge fealty to whoever happen to be Israel’s political leaders and to the idea of a Jewish State, they are alarmed about the prospect that if Bibi’s religious-party coalition partners have their druthers, the ninety percent of American Jews who consider themselves Reform, Conservative or otherwise non-Orthodox/traditional, they will find themselves constituting an Eleventh Lost Tribe.
Thus, when the Israel Policy Forum followed up on a question regarding the increased number of seats religious parties won in the Knesset, and asked respondents whether they were “hopeful or concerned” about this development, 63.3 percent said “concerned,” as opposed to 27.2 percent who found it “hopeful.” Moreover, when asked whether this was an important issue, 82.7 percent said “yes.”
Bibi and his handlers tried to reassure anyone who raised the issue by repeating the phrase “no change in the status quo” as if it were a mantra. But leaders of non-Orthodox denominations weren’t buying. As Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of Conservative Judaism’s Jewish Theological Seminary, recently pointed out in the New York Jewish Week (7/19/96), legislative proposals, sponsored by Bibi’s religious coalition partners, to enshrine in Israeli civil law Orthodoxy’s monopoly on conversions to Judaism “would mark a change in the status quo.”
And even as he courted his American Orthodox constituency with a media-hyped walk through a torrential rainstorm to attend Shabbat services at the Kehilath Jeshurun synagogue on New York’s Upper East Side, Bibi couldn’t avoid leaving behind an aftertaste of disappointment. Gary Rosenblatt, the mild-mannered editor of the Jewish Week whose own affiliation is with the “Modern” Orthodox wing of American Jewry, pointedly reported in his weekly column (7/19/96) that during the service Bibi “appeared ill at ease… He wore the tallit he was offered awkwardly and when he stood at the bima for his aliyah, to recite the blessings over the Torah, an aide in a white knitted kipa whispered in his ear, clueing him in on what was to take place.”
The religious issue is the most highly volatile one Bibi faces on the American front. Whether he decides to give back the Golan, or not; whether he expands or freezes settlement construction; whether he talks with Arafat or leaves the task to David Levy — these are, ultimately, matters of vicarious impact on the vast majority of American Jews who, after all, live in America, not Israel. But a change in the religious status quo, especially one that calls into question American Jews’ status as full-fledged Jews — that is another matter, one that would affect them where they live.
American Jews may be as pliable as Silly Putty when it comes to judging Israeli prime ministers. But even a string of Silly Putty snaps if you stretch it to far.
Bibi, beware.
Adam Simms is co-editor of PS: The Intelligent Guide to Jewish Affairs, a biweekly newsletter of liberal analysis and comment. Contact him or PS via email at, or by mail at P.O. Box 48, Mineola, NY 11501 –USA.
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Letters from Readers
Likud Webmaster finds BibiWATCH “quite interesting
1. I have ‘taken a look at your WWW site’ — and actually, I find it quite interesting. As you may expect, I do not subscribe to many of the opinions professed to within the site, but, nonetheless, I did find my visit to the site interesting. To be quite honest, I like some of the effects done on the ‘anti-Bibi’ pages. The ‘Bibi shaking his head no’ on is really quite cute. Of course, that all of these pages with all of these effects went ‘live’ AFTER the election is also interesting . . . — Joseph Steinberg, Likud On-Line Committee, Israel
Comments on our new look
2. The redesigned Bibi Watch site looks great. — Esther Gross, USA
3. BibiWatch look great, It looks a bit like CNN Interactive. — Tzach Borowitz, Israel
CNN copied our style. 🙂
4. Well done on your new design, it looks alot better! I see you took my advice and added a form. . . .You wrote that the peace process is dead. The peace process is not dead – it is dying of starvation and Bibi and his horde are doing everything in their power to keep it from getting food all the while giving it very little scraps (like the meetings with Arafat etc…) as a sign of good will to Clinton! — Ofir Thaler, Rehovot, Israel
Bravo BibiWATCH!
5. Reading the garbage which some of the Jewish and Israeli “right wingers” are producing, inspired by your publication, I realize that you are touching a nerve that is aching! Kol Hakavod! — Aaron Barnea, Tel Aviv, Israel
6. I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with BibiWatch — It’s great! — Jo-Ann Mort, New York City, USA
7. I just stumbled on BibiWatch, and I like what I see. Your comments in the Aug. 5 issue hit the nail on the head – Bibi is no more than a “user- friendly” Yitzhak Shamir. The “peace process” isn’t dead, but it will be in the 1991 style – lots of “process” and precious little “peace”. The Rabin- Peres revolution was to start moving from conducting a “peace process” to actually making peace. I agree with Yaki Beja that the election results had plenty to do with the failure of Labour (and my old party Meretz) to present their messages in a compelling way. Yaki’s right – time for younger hands to take the helm. In the spirit of recycling, they may be able to re-run some of those 1992 ads – shots of empty roads in the West Back come to mind. — Oren Levine, USA
8. What do I think of BibiWatch? It’s quite humorous, and perfectly within the borderlines of legitimate opposition. People on the right who accuse you of hysteria should reread some of their own conspiracy-prose written during the last years of the previous government. Personally I disagree with your pessimistic view on the future of the peace process, as well as with your assessment of The Beeb as an implacable territorialist. I was pleasantly surprised by his lack of enthusiasm for caving in to pressure from the ultra-right on such issues as the “administrative detentions” (which suddenly become a human-rights problem when not only Arabs are affected). I’m not sure that he has a big ideological ballast there, he just knew that jingoism would appeal to a substantial section of the electorate.Where he does have a ballast is that I am convinced he recites daily prayers in front of a picture of Margaret Thatcher. This man could well end up turning Israel into the same economic basket case as post-Thatcher England (G-d forbid). What everybody who shouts that “socialism is dead” seems to conveniently forget about is that laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t fare that much better. It has transformed the US into barely a society at all; has turned the UK into economic ruin; and has, after a brief honeymoon, largely been spurned by prosperous Western European countries who returned to their tried-and-true Keynesian policies to various degrees. Not to mention Scandinavia, or Japan (where my wife lived for 9 years) which has an economy that is capitalist only in name. The thing I liked most about Yitzchak Rabin is that he didn;t think in terms of any ideology — he was a “make-it-work” man of few words and many deeds. Had he lived, I am convinced he would have carried the election. But Peres? Whatever his other qualities and his great merits for the defense of the state, he could run in an election against himself and lose . . . Ironically, one of the big negative lessons about “trickle-down economics” could be drawn from .. . precisely the last Labor government. The people who most felt the economic benefits of the peace process were, predictably, those working in export-dependent hi-tech industries. If trickle-down economics as generally advocated by the right would really work, the increased spending by these people would have improved the economic situation of the others, nu? — Dr. Jan M. L. Martin, Jerusalem, Israel
9. Keep up the great work! Also, check out the following web site: — Guy Ziv, Washington D.C., USA
10. I surfed through “Bibiwatch” – A great idea!!! You are invited to visit the Peace Now homepage at . The page contains updated information about our activities, press releases, etc. If you are interested in joining the Peace Now mailing list, please fill out the form (link) “contact us”. — Dan Miodownik, Israel
11. Great site!!! Funny and smart. Like the old saying goes: “If he was not my prime minister I would have laughed too”. — Gadi, Israel
12. Way to go! I don’t really like Bibi Yahoo, too! G-R-E-A-T!!!!!!! — Amit Lev, Israel
13. Keep up the good work:-) — Idan Sofer, Israel
14. Cool site,but it’s too bad that it started to publish only AFTER the election! — Yaron Golgher, Israel
15. I’m from Israel and I am glad for all the bad things you wrote on Bibi. I wanted peres to win and I can’t understand how did’nt. It was a big shock for me!– but four years from now, Avoda (Labor) will be back. — Yaron, Israel
16. I think you would like to add to your links my site: It’s entitled: “No more peace for Israel” — Avshalom Kasher, Israel
17. You do a great work, continue like this. — G.B., France
18. I’ve been following you since issue #1. Keep up the great work. — William Friend, New York City, USA
19. I’m new in the net,but when I saw your site – I liked it very much. I think like you that we have to cause BB to quit. — Eran, Israel
Should the Israeli Left encourage a tourism boycott?
20. I continue to follow Bibiwatch. I’m pleased you’ve attracted so much attention from the virtual Jewish community. For me the Internet has made it possible to develop a relationship with “the Jewish people” which was not possible from the position of a secular Jew on an outpost of the Diaspora. What happens in Israel reflects upon us all, whether we like it or not, and we feel this especially in situations where our neighbors or colleagues have never even seen a real Jew. I was also very pleased with the comments of the Lebanese friend who wrote you. I was less pleased with some recent comments made about Bibiwatch and your person in a discussion group of JCN, referring to you and Chomsky and Marx, etc. as “self-hating Jews”. This prompted me to make a posting on this topic. I have a query for you and sympathetic readers involving tourism in Israel. It’s like this: I have always avoided tourism in Israel because as a Jewish tourist I would not be able to oppose the impression that I am giving support to the state, the government of the time and inevitably to the occupation. This is how I felt about Franco’s Spain (even in the 1970s) or about South Africa before the end of apartheid. The fact that Israel is an emanation of my own people has increased my feeling of responsibility. (This attitude will make some unsympathetic readers think I am indeed a “self-hating Jew”.) With the progress of the “peace process” I had warmed up to Israel and considered doing tourism. With the defeat of Peres and the threat to the peace process I have returned to my previous position. Do you consider this an important issue? I believe that Jews in the “Diaspora” must do everything in their power to make known that there exists serious Jewish opposition to the occupation and settlements, even if that includes a boycott of tourism. — Alan Stoleroff, Lisbon, Portugal
I don’t accept the comparison to Francoist Spain or Apartheid South Africa; Israel is still a democracy. The Israeli Left does not call for a tourism boycott. In fact, I think it best that tourists come and learn about our region first hand. What do other readers think?
Other comments
21. The analysis and debate you publish is colorful, but it would be far more useful if you laced it with more fresh facts and figures, especially solid information that has not already been published (e.g. What is Sharon up to?), in addition to opinion and analysis (of which we have a surfeit).. — Tom Smerling, USA
22. What is the purpose of facetious remarks such as “BibiWATCH will continue to publish a representative sampling of the letters it receives, both from “jerks” and from thosewho agree with its views.”? Is BibiWatch intended to antagonize or to persuade? Or just to have fun letting off steam? Or does the writer really think that a person who is more fearful and hesitant than himself is a “jerk”? — Julius Hollander, Israel
I was quoting a letter above which asked me to stop publishing letters from “jerks” — and saying that I would continue to publish a representative sampling of letters from all sides.
BibiWATCH Bash
23. I am a new Oleh from Belgium and I am really digusted with your site. When I came over to Israel I never thought I’ll find here in my own country people who in Belgium you call Antisemites. And it hurts even much more to see that we have our own “Jewish Antisemites.” Shame on you. — Leo Strassberg, Israel
24. To the Italian politican D’alema who reads your column – your country has a fair judical system. Let any terrorists or nazis out lately? So please don’t stick your nose into our business — Eli Krakauer, Israel
This insult to Massimo D’Alema, the general secretary of the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (PDS), whose letter appeared in the last issue of BibiWATCH, cannot go unanswered. The PDS, which is the former Communist Party of Italy, may be accused of making many mistakes over the years, but there is no question where it stands on the issue of Nazis and Fascists. D’Alema and his party are allies, not enemies, of the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
25. I think you are over-reacting,because Netanyahu is a good leader and he proved himself. I also think that the Labor Party should learn a lot from the Likud Party !!! — Iris Grossman, Israel
We agree on one thing: Labor has a lot to learn from the Likud. Like how to return to power after only one term in opposition.
26. I am very glad to see that at last you guys are in opposition now and write your dirty things without possibility to have any influence on what actually happens.Your homepage is for me a real evidence that there is a change in our country after four years of nightmare – please continue to send apocalyptic messages to the Net but leave the reality for us. — Arik, Israel
27. Just because of Bibi’s policies, my interest in reading BibiWatch dropped this week. Poor Eric has nothing really new to say (the feedback columns and the presentation are attractive, though). Showing the rare open-mindness of people who judge and execute before having real facts, he’s still expecting Bibi to do really nasty things, so he could write infuriated pamphlets. But nothing really juicy is coming, and he’s forced to remain in low gear. How sad. So Binyamin,if you read me,please start the next war, or at least launch some diplomatic wreckage! Give my favourite webmaster reasons to exist. Hell, do something for him, he’s putting so much hope on you. — Shosh Berr, Israel