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Subject: 119-Netanyahu's_Election_3_93

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Report No. 119 Israel Shahak, 30 March 1993


The election of Netanyahu the leader of Likud

and its significance


Israeli politics is now said to be in the process of its

Americanization, as shown by the increasing role of a party leader. In

Likud, and earlier in its predecessor Herut party, the tradition of

leader-worship has always been firmly ensconced. The tradition dates

from the days of the movement's founding father, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and

it flourished under Begin to become tarnished under Shamir. This why

the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as the next leader of Likud, who by

virtue this election automatically becomes the head of the Right Wing

opposition against Rabin's government, is bound to have deep political

significance. The circumstances of his electoral victory only add to

its significance. The Hebrew press realized it immediately. It

refrained from writing much about Netanyahu until after his victory,

presumably in order not to let him use press criticism to his

electoral advantage, which would have been easy when the bulk of Likud

party membership perceived the press as "hostile to the nation". But

right after the outcome of the election was announced, the press began

to make amends for its earlier reticence by publishing a lot of stuff

about Netanyahu, most of it quite derogatory. The Labor leaders, Rabin

among them, have grasped the importance of Netanyahu's election as

well. Rabin responded at once by leaking to the press his intention of

designating general Ehud Barak, the current Chief of Staff, as his

successor and - to smooth his path - as his likely imminent appointee

as the Defense minister. Right now, Barak happens to be nearing the

end of his two year term as a Chief of Staff, and the press has kept

itself busy discussing his personality and career. The bulk of this

report will be devoted to an analysis of Netanyahu's victory, but I

will conclude it by briefly discussing Barak's present standing and

his political chances in the future.

Under Begin's leadership Likud comported itself with all due respect

for formalities. In Shamir's years [1983-93], however, it fell into an

unprecedented disarray. As the press has rightly pointed out, Likud

now has neither a valid convention, nor valid statutes, nor any

revenues. To make things even messier, its major leadership figures

are constantly at each other throats, especially after Shamir's

retirement in June 1992. The last time Likud's convention met was in

1986. It did admit some (mostly moribund) small parties to its ranks,

and it did elect the party Center which functions as the

decision-making body in between the elections. But it annulled the old

party statutes without bothering to start drafting anything in their

place. According to the old statutes a convention was to meet every

four years. But it hasn't met since 1986. Even the Center meets

infrequently. The crucial decision to hold primaries, which in Likud

are total novelty, was adopted at informal meetings of Likud's major



In Likud the party's ongoing affairs were always conducted primarily

by "the leader". Until the latest elections to the Knesset, Shamir

acted in that capacity. Under Begin the leader's decisions were

unchallengeable. Anyone who dared challenge them had to leave the

party at once, as happened to Ezer Weizman, now elected by the

Labor-led Knesset majority as the next President of Israel. Under the

much less charismatic Shamir, his decisions were sometimes challenged,

in which case things had to be subsequently patched up by informal

agreements between the party's recognized "secondary leaders",

concretely by Arens, Levy and Sharon. After Likud's electoral defeat,

followed by the resignation of Shamir and Arens and by the political

eclipse of Sharon blamed as responsible for that defeat, Likud became

virtually leaderless, and thereby lacking an inner cohesion. But what

Likud has in abundance, more so than any other Israeli party, are the

ranks of dedicated militants, attached to the party unquestioningly,

ready to always reiterate with perfect sincerity that "Likud is my

home", or "I'll rather die than leave Likud" or the like. Among

Likud's factional leaders, David Levy alone commands the same kind of

allegiance on the part of his faction's rank-and-file, and this

allegiance is even expressed in similar words. Netanyahu has shrewdly

exploited the absence of other charismatic leaders in Likud.


The results of the primaries, held on March 25, showed not only the

extent of Netanyahu's victory but also the continuing vitality of

Likud as a party. Out of 216,000 Likud members, 145,000, i.e. no less

than 68%, actually voted (Maariv, March 26, 1993). Such figures are in

Israel quite unprecedented. For a comparison, the membership of Labor

amounts to about 150,000. But in its primaries, held several months

before the last Knesset elections, only slightly more than 50%

bothered to vote. Moreover, out of those 216,000 members, about

100,000 joined Likud in the short period of time between October 1992

and two weeks before the primaries, due primarily to Netanyahu's

well-organized recruitment drive. Netanyahu received 52.1% of votes

while competing with three other candidates: David Levy who received

26.3%, Benny Begin with 15.1% and Moshe Katzav with 6.5%. Since

receiving 40% would have been enough to get elected, Netanyahu can be

said to have won by landslide. In Labor's primaries, with four

contenders, Rabin got only 40.6%, against Peres with 36.3%.


Campaigning for Likud leadership openly since October 1992,

Netanyahu soon got an advantage over other contenders, despite being

handicapped by a sex scandal. The scandal, now known in Israel as "the

case of a video-tape which was never made" is still a murky affair,

especially since the police were by no means eager to investigate it.

Little is known for sure, except that about two months ago, Netanyahu

suddenly appeared one evening on TV, telling the astonished viewers

that his wife was blackmailed, his office broken into and his phone

tapped, all this having been done "by the gangsters from the retinue

of a senior Likud leader". Netanyahu could not have meant anyone

besides David Levy. He admitted that the blackmail and all the

sleuthing had a purpose: to uncover his affair with a married woman

employed in his office. He admitted he had such an affair, but later

repented and returned to the embraces of his wife, his third one. He

did not disclose the name of the woman in question, but the press was

quick to identify her. Interviewed, she confirmed Netanyahu's facts.

Her physician husband, no less stunned by Netanyahu' revelations than

anybody else, hurried to open divorce proceedings in a rabbinical

court. In view of all this, adultery can be considered proven, But

Netanyahu didn't have a jot of evidence incriminating "the gangsters".

Curiously, he told the story on TV first, and submitted a complaint to

the police only the next day. Naturally, most observers assumed that

if the police fail to find evidence supporting Netanyahu's

accusations, he will be discredited. Also, one has to understand that

a high proportion of Likud's members are part-religious (the so-called

"traditionalists") or full-scale religious. Such members could have

been expected to refuse to vote for an adulterer as their leader and a

prospective Israeli Prime Minister. It was also expected that at least

some Israeli rabbis, ever quick to denounce the Laborites and "Meretz"

leaders for much lesser transgressions, would find words of severe

condemnation for the grievous sin of Netanyahu. After all, the same

rabbis and the same public quite recently hounded Shulamit Aloni for

the mere eating of non-kosher food. In Orthodox Judaism adultery is

regarded as one of three most heinous sins, much graver than eating

non-kosher food. But none of these expactations materialized. No rabbi

said anything about Netanyahu's sex life. But Netanyahu's electoral

campaign was too well-managed to make too many Likud members unduly

concerned about this matter. The now retiring chief commander of the

Israeli police, Superintendent Terner, is now blamed by the Police

minister for conniving with Netanyahu by deliberately stalling the

investigation. Supposedly the two struck a deal: Netanyahu is said to

have promised to return Terner's favor by advancing his political

career. (Terner denies everything, but without sounding very

convincing.) But regardless of whether the police has or hasn't

investigated the affair properly, the fact that Netanyahu won despite

a widely-publicized scandal, and against the expectations of

practically all analysts, has a political significance of its own.

Before analyzing the reasons for his victory, it would be useful to

provide information on Netanyahu's biography. Its best accounts so far

have been by Orna Kadosh (Maariv, March 26) and Binah Barzel (Yediot

Ahronot, March 26). Netanyahu was born in Jerusalem, 46 years ago, to

a wealthy family of extreme right wingers. His father, professor

Ben-Zion Netanyahu, an editor and historian by profession, was on

close terms with Ze'ev Jabotinsky and later with Begin, but stayed

away from day-to-day politics. In spite of its extremism, the family's

wealth generated useful "connections", also with Laborites. This fact

may have prevailed on Begin when he mooted in 1978 Netanyahu's

candidacy for Presidency of Israel. But Begin's proposal was a

non-starter, because most politicians, even within Likud, were afraid

of Netanyahu's extremism. They had a convenient excuse for opposing

that proposal: namely that Netanyahu's family had left for the U.S.

when Netanyahu was a teenager and stayed there onward. They could be

considered a family which repudiated Israel through emigration. Kadosh

counts that "out of 46 years of Bibi Netanyahu's life, 19 were spent

in the U.S., thereof only 6 in functions of an Israeli representative,

but 13 as a strictly private person". As she points out, "these 13

years constitute a black hole" in his biography. Little is known about

what he did during much of that time since his family has adamantly

refused to disclose anything about it. It is rumored that he might

have then worked in some Israeli secret ventures whose very existence

on U.S. soil has always been staunchly denied by Israel. Yet Bibi, as

he became known from his childhood on, did leave the U.S. to report

for military service in Israel. Following in the footsteps of his

brother, Yoni, he served in the most prestigious of the Israeli "elite

units", the "General Staff Patrol". Subsequently, however, Yoni chose

to make a professional career in this unit, advancing to the rank of a

major, whereas Bibi left Israel for the U.S. upon the termination of

his service. The whole thing constituted a breach of the army's rules

which do not allow two brothers to serve in the same "elite unit". But

the fact that such a breach occcurred only testifies to the strength

of the Netanyahu's family's "connections".


Yoni Netanyahu was killed in 1976 in the Entebbe Raid, enabling

Israeli propaganda especially in the English speaking countries, to

make him into a hero of heroes. (In Israel this effort was a failure,

and he is now rather forgotten.) Kadosh writes: "On July 4, 1976, the

youngest brother Ido phoned Netanyahu in the U.S. notifying him [of

Yoni's death]. As a result, the whole family returned to Israel at

once. Yoni was turned into a myth. Bibi and Ido didn't spare any

effort in producing this myth. Already during the [religiously

prescribed] seven days [of mourning] they began to review Yoni's

private letters for publication. In the end they decided that the best

way to perpetute his memory would be to establish an institute for

helping combat international terrorism to be named after him". The

institute was officially opened by Begin in 1979, but the whole idea

had been energically pushed forward by Peres, who during the Entebbe

Raid in July 1976 was Defense minister. Kadosh comments that "for all

his efforts in mythologizing the memory of his brother, Netanyahu was

not above using this occasion for generating publicity around himself.

Major political figures would sponsor the formation of the institute.

Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Menahem Begin and [the then] Secretary

General of Histadrut, Yeruham Meshel, made all their international

contacts available for the purpose. In this way he began corresponding

and actually meeting in person a lot of VIPs with international

renown. Since then he became well-connected. In no time, American TV

studios opened for him. Taking advantage of Israel's influence in the

U.S., he used this opportunity to preach to the Americans that they

were much too `soft' toward the Arabs".


Those endeavors reached their culmination at the First International

Symposium Against Terror, held in Jerusalem in the fall of 1979.

Netanyahu was the symposium's star. The modern media, however, get

easily tired of the stars. According to Kadosh, "soon after the

Symposium the Netanyahu family was forgotten". Bibi had to leave the

institute and take a job as a sales manager in the furniture company

"Rim". He performed this job quite successfully. Aggressive

advertising he designed induced the customers to "invest" in new

furniture at a time of raging inflation. But his political career

seemed to end before it began. According to both Kadosh and Barzel, he

owed his return to politics to Arens and Peres. Arens, who then was

the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, came in 1982 to the conclusion

that publicity around the "Peace for Galilee" campaign needed to

stress more the factor of international terrorism. With this idea in

mind he called Netanyahu, offering him the post of a political attache

in the embassy. Since Netanyahu had not been in diplomatic service

before, the appointment was unprecedented. It needed Begin's

supporting pressure to materialize. Shamir, then the Foreign minister,

refrained from expressing any opinion about it. Two years passed

before Peres, already a Prime Minister, appointed Netanyahu as

Ambassador to the U.N. Shamir, the Foreign minister again (after his

first short period as Prime Minister in 1983-84), again refrained from

expressing his opinion about that appointment.


With Peres' full support, Netanyahu served as Ambassador to the U.N.

until 1988. In that capacity, he carried what was often described in

Israel as a policy of his own. In my view, however, this policy was

fully approved by the entire "National Unity Government", i.e. by

Likud and Labor alike. What happened was that Netanyahu peddled a

propaganda which was known to be best suited to the tastes of both the

organized U.S. Jews and the fundamentalist Christians. A thesis he

then developed and has frequently reiterated since, was - in Kadosh's

rendition of it - that "in the Middle East there is nobody we could

make peace with", and therefore, "that there will be no peace in our

time". Along with that, he never tired of comparing all varieties of

Arab leaders to Hitler, and the Arab nations (or the Palestinians

alone) to the German Nazis. Kadosh quotes an official statement of

his, made on American TV, but in his capacity as an Israeli

Ambassador, to the effect of "Yasser Arafat being worse than Hitler".

While well-received in the U.S., the statement was furiously resented

by the Holocaust survivors in Israel. As early as between 1984 and

1988, the Hebrew press already observed that Netanyahu outflanked

Sharon from the right. Some commentators recall how, still in an

Ambassadorial capacity, he presented to the Jewish audiences in the

U.S. "a plan of defeating the Intifada". The plan had three

components: to expel "hundreds of leaders" to Lebanon each time any

incident occurs; to shoot all stone throwers to death and to bar all

access to the Territories to foreign electronic media and almost all

of the Israeli ones. Some Israeli commentators hold that he hasn't

revised any of those ideas since at best he may refrain from voicing

them when it would be impolitic to do so. Kadosh mentions "the

frequent complaints of U.S. Administrations to the Israeli

government", against Netanyahu's pronouncements implying that the U.S.

policies could bring a second Holocaust upon the Jews. She says that

"during the last Bush's meeting ith Shamir in May 1992", much time was

spent discussing Bush's complaints about Netanyahu's saying [on

American TV] that the U.S. Administration wanted to enclose Israel in

the borders of Auschwitz". She does not say what Shamir's reply was,

but one can hardly doubt that all such U.S. objections against

Netanyahu have fallen on Israeli deaf ears.


All commentators agree that in those years, and in particular in

1984-88, Netanyahu succeeded in establishing two essential

preconditions of his future political career. He secured his access to

lots of money donated by wealthy North American Jews, and to a cadre

of Israelis, comprised mainly of successful businessmen, without

direct political affiliations, but usually with some military

experience. Such men tended to consider even Ariel Sharon as too

moderate, or at least too powerless to bring his designs about.

Accordingly, such men tended to place their hopes in Netanyahu as the

only one capable of saving the Israeli Jews from "the borders of

Auschwitz" and let them enrich themselves in the process. This chapter

in Netanyahu's career is of particular interest to Barzel. She tells

how during those crucial years he met plenty of American Jewish

millionaires who subsequently became enchanted with him enough to

lavish lots of money on his political ventures. Although many of them

are Ashkenazi, among the most devoted to him are some "Oriental"

Jewish millionaires, such as the Murad family of Iranian descent. The

sums which Netanyahu spent during several months of his campaigning

were fabulous, exceeding anything ever spent on political undertakings

in Israel.


In Barzel's opinion, however, "the secret organization of

Netanyahu's friends" called "Tzolelet" [submarine] contributed to

Netanyahu's victory even more decisively than money. They provided him

with office space, computers, computer expertise and, most

importantly, political connections within Likud, which he himself

didn't have. Due to their influence he could be elected as one of the

first seven Likud candidates to the Knesset right upon his return to

Israel in 1988. Moreover, Netanyahu could achieve this distinction

right after his reputation suffered a setback. Barely a few hours

after his resignation at the end of March 1988, he appeared on the

Israeli TV in order to viciously castigate the man who until the same

morning was his boss: Shimon Peres. Netanyahu's appearance aroused a

wave of criticism. But he did it in order to - in his own inimitable

style - realign himself with Likud, which he formally joined the next

day. Until then it was by no means sure which party would he side

with. Peres lavished favors on him hoping to lure him into Labor,

apparently without knowing anything about the existence of "Tzolelet".

The latter's success in advancing their freshman candidate so high on

the Likud's list already portended his 1993 victory.


But the role the same secret camarilla can be assumed to be more

than merely organizational. Using lots of money donated by Netanyahu's

wealthy diaspora friends, they not only assured his victory in the

campaign, but, even before that, adapted that campaign to the tastes

of not only the Likud members but also an entire segment of the

Israeli Jewish society. What I have in mind, is what is referred to as

"Israel No. 2", within which Likud is indeed the core party, and the

main recipient of votes. During the campaign, a considerable number of

Yeshiva students joined Likud in order to vote for Netanyahu. They

were undeterred in the least by his acknowledged adultery, nor by the

reiterated interdictions of their rabbis, nor even by those rabbis'

threats of punishment in hell for so doing. Those interdictions and

threats, incidentally, had little to do with Netanyahu's moral

qualities or his secularity. They were made on the ground of a more

general principle forbidding a Haredi [ultra-pious] Jew to join a

secular party which lets non-Jews be its members. The social gulf

separating the two segments of the Israeli Jewish society was

particularly pronounced during Netanyahu's campaign. The same things

which exhilarated "Israel No. 2" would repel and disgust the secular

and modernizing "Israel No. 1" to the utmost. This factor might well

helped Netanyahu defeat the other contestants in the race for Likud

leadership so decisively.


Among other differences, the metioned gulf between the two segments

of Israeli Jewish society implies very different uses of the term

"peace". The difference is not in political behavior, since Labor

hawks can well compete with and even outdo Netanyahu. Rather, the

difference lies in deeply ingrained manner-of-speech habits. "Israel

No. 1" feels compelled to reassure itself and the world about "its

deep and unwavering desire for peace", especially at the time of major

Israeli atrocities (invariably perpetrated "for the sake of peace") or

preparations for a war. Of course it is sheer hypocrisy, but it

nevertheless implies a notion of desirability of peace with the Arabs,

on Israeli terms for sure, in some more or less remote future. It is

indicative that when "Israel No. 1" spokesmen, the Laborites included,

talk about the ethereal peace with the Arabs, they like to compare it

to peace Israel has with friendly non-Jewish states like Denmark or

Holland, or with peace between the Scandinavian states. The attitude

of "Israel No. 2" is poles apart. Since all the Gentiles, including

even Reagan or Bush can be assumed to be potential or actual

anti-Semites, Israel can have no real peace with anyone, not just with

the Arabs. In that worldview, the Holocaust is not attributed to the

German Nazis, but to Gentiles who happened to be German. Accordingly,

in that imagery Hitler is conceived of as no different from, say, the

Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus who in 70 AD destroyed the Temple

(leaving the Jews throughout Roman Empire free of persecutions), or

from other enemies of the Jews, whether mythical like the Pharaoh, or

real ones. This is why the above quoted statement by Netanyahu's that

Arafat was worse than Hitler could be accepted by many as a foregone

conclusion. When one departs from such assumptions, it is perfectly

logical to claim that the only Israeli "answer to Palestinian terror"

could be to use ever more force, in fact more terror.


This point was well grasped by Doron Rosenblum (Haaretz, March 5)

who collected a lot of Netanyahu's enthusiastically received

statements on such topics. They show, incidentally, that in

campaigning against David Levy he took full advantage of the latter's

reputation as somebody associated with the "peace process" by the very

virtue of serving as Foreign minister in Shamir's government.

Following the recommendations of his PR advisers, and adapting himself

to the tastes of the public he was adressing, he chose to speak for

the most part in the form of short and simplistic sloganeering,

without bothering about its inner contradictions which "Israel No. 1"

would have detected and resented. Here is a smaple of his statements:

"Who can guarantee to us that a peace we would sign will work?" "Major

wars usually break up between states which were at peace". "Peace is

just a slip of paper". "We can give the Arabs peace for peace". "Peace

with Syria, perhaps - but the return of the Golan, never". "The choice

we have is between a war with the Golan in our hands or without". "We

can influence the [U.S.] Administration in our favor". "The answer to

terror is that every Jew should carry a revolver". Replying to a

heckler objecting that many Jews are too poor to buy themselves a

revolver, he reached what can only be described as high point of

absurdity: "The state should distribute revolvers to the people". This

statement, although berated by the press (which the Likud supporters

tend to consider "hostile to the nation"), was received

enthusiastically by his audience.


The mentioned gulf separating the two halves of Israeli Jewish

society is by no means coextensive with the distinction between

Ashkenazi and "Oriental" Jews. It is true that for reasons which can

not be discussed here, large numbers of "Oriental" Jews tend to

congregate in "Israel no. 2". But so do plenty of Askenazim, while not

a few "Oriental" Jews stand firmly in "Israel no. 1". Professor

Ya'akov Shavit (Hadashot, March 26) traced the roots of Netanyahu's

speech style to the Revisionist movement of the late 1930s. Shavit

recounts how, after Jabotinsky founded his "New Zionist Organization,

he went on a tour of Jewish communities in small towns of Poland.

Emulating the style of the Polish `generals regime', he promised to

Jews all kinds of things impossible to achieve, provided they would

support him". For example, he assured them that "Jewish pressure will

force Britain" to soon establish the Jewish state in Palestine and

Jordan, not bothering about his simultaneous description of Britain as

hardly less antisemitic than Nazi Germany. Using such speechmaking

style, he quickly persuaded 700,000 Polish Jews, (i. e. about 20% of

the Jewish population of Poland), most of them religious, to sign a

declaration supporting his demands, while knowing, as Shavit points it

out, that his action "could not but be devoid of any political

significance". Other Jewish leaders of the time compared Jabotinsky's

demeanor to a that of a movie star, and this comparison could be

applied to Netanyahu as well. But at the same time, Shavit points out

that "Netanyahu couldn't care less about Jabotinsky's ideology" which,

even if meant to be followed by his party members alone, has always

had some importance. "He reduces Likud to a party whose only aim is to

exploit the public's mood". If he means that Likud under Netanyahu's

leadership is likely to lack any worldview apart from some banalities,

Shavit may be quite right.


Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu laid heavy stress upon his own

personality. In particular at the late stages of his campaign, when he

frequently appeared in medium size towns and poor neighborhoods in

large cities, inhabited by Jews of "Oriental" extraction who might

have been assumed to be potential supporters of Levy, he entertained

his audiences with stories about his soldierly qualities of more than

20 years past, including his training in the "General Staff Patrol"

and his success in overcoming the hardships of such training. Such

prattle would not have been liked by a Labor audience. Yet Netanyahu's

speeches, obviously written for him by experts in crowd psychology,

were apparently designed to counter Levy's charges of anti-Oriental

discrimination. The trick was to appeal to the commonest Israeli

Jewish experience shared by the Ashkenazim and Orientals alike: namely

the army service. It had a side advantage of conveying an image of a

warrior valiant enough to make his adulteries forgivable. Notions of

this sort are cross-cultural and are reinforced by the TV programs

Netanyahu's audiences like. The speeches proved to meet all their

purposes. The audiences were virtually engrossed.

An analysis of electoral returns shows that Netanyahu won handsomely

in big cities, especially in disproportionally religious Jerusalem,

and rather convincingly in the medium-sized ones. In Bney Brak, a

medium-sized city with a considerable Haredi majority, Netanyahu

received no less than 90% of votes. The Moroccan-born Levy had to

content himself with some votes of North African (primarily Moroccan)

Jews concentrated in medium-size towns, but above all else in the

poorest towns located far away from big cities which Netanyahu avoided

during his campaign. It seems that other "Oriental" communities were

far from willing to vote for Levy. The weakest contender, Katzav, who

is of Iranian extraction, apparently attracted only the vote of other

Iranian descendants. The vote for Benny Begin doesn't seem to have

been influenced by communitarian affiliations.


As I already indicated in report 99, written on April 14, 1992,

dealing with Levy's aborted departure from Likud after a quarrel with

Shamir, the constituency of Levy's faithfuls is much too small to

serve as his power base letting him play an independent role in

national politics. Insofar as the results of Likud primaries can be

extrapolated, they would indicate that his Knesset strength wouldn't

exceed 3-4 seats. Netanyahu's victory has finally convinced all

Israeli political observers that there is no such thing as united

"Oriental" vote. All that exists, is the votes of separate "Oriental"

communities. But even this vote is not something to be taken for

granted, as its extent may vary widely depending on extraneous

factors. In more prosperous sections of society an "all-Israeli

appeal" will defeat an appeal to communitarian separateness. In any

event, Levy's defeat is so great that it forecloses for him an option

of leaving Likud and forming an independent party, at least for a

foreseeable future.


On election day Netanyahu's superior financial resources turned out

to decisive. Uzi Benziman (Haaretz, March 26) describes the enormous

fleet of minibuses and other vehicles which Netanyahu hired in order

to bring his voters to the polling stations. He also describes crowds

of Netanyahu's hired henchmen drowning every outcry of Levy's

supporters in "an organized loud chorus of `Bibi, Bibi, king of

Israel' outlasting all the others". Voting formulas were 3 page long,

containing over 100 entries to fill. The majority of the Likud's

members would find it difficult to fill them, but the candidates were

equipped with computerized forms given to their prospective voters.

One of the tasks of Netanyahu's hired hands was to push his forms into

the hands of the voters, while often "buying" for few Shekels a form

of rival candidate in a voter's possesion. While calling the manner in

which some Netanyahu voters were brought to the polling stations,

"herd-like", Benziman deplores the fact that Netanyahu's rival

candidates failed to demand "other voting conditions under which

democracy in Likud could have been seen to a better advantage".

The smashing victory of Netanyahu leaves open many question about

Labor's response to it and his conduct as Likud's chief. Let me raise

two pertinent questions. The first concerns the contrast between

Likud's virtual bankruptcy and Netanyahu's riches. In Likud's central

building in Tel Aviv, now taken over by Netanyahu, the elevators are

in disrepair and the telephones, in any case outmoded, are time after

time disconnected as a result of non-payment of bills. Is Netanyahu

going to pour his riches into Likud's chest? Under Israeli law the

State Comptroller inspects the financial affairs of the parties but

not those of the factions within the parties: accordingly, the

question cannot be easily answered. The second question concerns the

danger posed to Likud by the Tzomet party and its leader Rafael Eitan,

who not only once was a Chief of Staff but also had had a much longer

and more impressive army career than Netanyahu before reaching the

C-o-S rank. Although Tzomet has only 8 Knesset seats compared to

Likud's 32, it is rising in the polls much more rapidly than Likud. In

addition to that, Eitan is certainly capable of coming out with

slogans no less simplistic than Netanyahu's.


A translation of Netanyahu's vague campaign promises into a coherent

program is another problem. As the head of the largest party in

opposition he will now be surely pressed to come out with some

program. This point was raised Yosef [Tommy] Lapid, one of the rare

press commentators of distinctions who supports Likud. Writing in

Maariv (March 26). Lapid didn't shy of opining that Netanyahu's "style

of leadership reminds me of Mussolini's style in Rome when he emulated

Caesar and at the same time Bonaparte". Lapid does express his general

agreement with Netanyahu's slogans, but with the qualification that he

"will refrain from asking questions about those slogans which can in

no way be realized". But he does ask some specific questions, for

example: "What concrete plans for the future do you have as Likud's

leader? Are we permitted to know what do you propose? If we are, why

can't I find a single feasible idea in all your speeches, declarations

and ads?" After more such questions, Lapid continues: "Don't keep

telling us that you want `peace for peace'. This is at best a delusion

and at worst a nonsense bad enough to insult the intelligence of at

least some of your listeners. You must know it yourself and you also

know that we know it. Spare us the shame, then. You can say: `I

renounce peace. I will never sign any treaty because I don't believe

in them. The Greater Land of Israel is for me more important than

peace. I will keep ruling them by force, because otherwise they would

be a threat to our survival. We will continue to live by the sword

because we are fated to.' That would be a honorable position:

pessimistic in its vision, but containing sufficient truth. But don't

keep telling us: `One of those days I am going to retreat for the sake

of peace, but I myself will decide when, how much and under what

conditions'. This is in a nutshell what Rabin tells us as well. If you

do too, say it straight, so that we can see that you don't differ from

Rabin, and that Likud's plan doesn't differ from Labor's, except that

you are convinced that you can execute it better. In that case it is

up to us to decide whom among the two of you we prefer... What do you

propose then, Sir? Please speak out!" Only the future may show whether

Netanyahu will indeed speak out, and whether the majority of Likud's

supporters will want him to speak out.


It has been clear for some time that Rabin was contemplating to

respond to the looming threats to Labor on the part of Likud and

Tzomet, and on the part of Netanyahu as a person, by designating the

current Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak, as his successor to Labor

leadership and thereby as a possible Israeli Prime Minister after the

1996 election, when a new constitutional law enacted about a year ago

will mandate direct elections of the Prime Minister, no longer his

designation by the President and approval by the Knesset as

heretofore. Well-informed Emmanuel Rosen (Maariv, March 26),

anticipates that, as a first step, Rabin, now both the Prime Minister

and Defense minister, is likely to appoint Barak to the latter

position. Rosen says that "persistent rumors to this effect have been

mounting in the offices of the government, Labor party and the General

Staff, where the heads of the private offices of the generals, their

aides and their favorite journalists can hardly speak about anything

else". Na'omi Levitzky (Yediot Ahronot, March 26) reports the same,

adding that "Barak himself is most eager to become a minister". The

rumors found their indirect confirmation when, during the recent visit

of the State Secretary Christopher in Jerusalem, all ministers were

according to Levitzky excluded from the decisive talk with him, but

Barak was present. This was unprecedented: even Ben-Gurion had never

done anything of the sort. It is no secret that Rabin would dearly

like to preclude a possible reappointment of his perpetual rival Peres

(who like Rabin is 70) as Prime Minister. Barak candidacy can

secondarily serve this purpose as well.


However, as Rosen argues, Rabin will have no easy time pressing

Barak's designation scheme. Barak's military prestige is steadily

declining, especially after his promise to restore quiet by the

expulsion of the 415 fell flat. The scheme is bound to be resisted by

Labor politicians, who, as Rosen puts it, "haven't for years

experienced a threat to their careers as grave as now coming from the

Chief of Staff's private office. The very expectation that Rabin may

parachute Barak to the party leadership mobilizes them to action, and

they do sharpen their knives". Rosen quotes "a senior minister from

Rabin's camp" who told him: "Rabin will commit political suicide if he

indeed appoints Barak as the Defense minister. We will seize axes in

our hands in order not to let it pass. We will create a storm within

the party of such magnitude as our party has never known before. The

entire party will stand united against such parachuting, aware that

the Defense ministry would be no more than a stage in Barak's assent

to Prime Ministership". Yet the rumors persist.


During his recurrent and well-publicized appearances before the

Knesset Committee for Foreign and Defense Affairs Barak has been

criticized with increasing frequency. Rosen attributes this fact to

the politicians' fears. But Barak's bad publicity also has another

source: the leaks from the General Staff generals, with whom Barak's

relations are reported to be strained. An old enemy of his from there,

general (reserves) Yossi Peled, several months ago retired, to publish

shortly thereafter his memoirs. According to Rosen, one of his aims is

"to raise doubts whether Barak is capable of translating his potential

intellectual qualities into action". Other recently retired generals

are also said to prepare themselves to impair Barak's reputation. As

long as they serve under him, they must keep their anonymity, but they

still found ways to communicate to Rosen that "Barak loves to speak

but hates to hear other generals speak. He makes speeches at the

General Staff meetings long enough to exhaust his listeners and

antagonize them. He always implies that his listeners are incapable of

understanding what he means".


More such stuff can be quoted, but I will omit it. Clearly, Barak is

now nearing the end of his two year term as the Chief of Staff without

basking in public popularity. For Rabin's scheme this is the main

obstacle. Both Rosen and Levitzky discuss this factor, but due to

military censorship, both cannot say much apart from vacuous

generalities, e.g. that "Barak's way of coping with the Intifada

doesn't presently add to his popularity". They both say that "Barak is

doing very good work in the army, but its nature cannot be reported".

In my own view, although Rabin has lost much of his popularity, his

power over the government remains absolute because the ministers fear

that if they oppose him the government will collapse. The same fear

may well influence the Labor Party to approve Barak's ascendancy.

However, whether positing Barak against Netanyahu can contain the

latter is another question which only the future can resolve. It can

be said that, if the Israeli army keeps blundering as gravely as to

date, parachuting Barak to Labor leadership will be of little avail.

But if the Israeli army still under his command gains something

perceived by Israeli public as tangible enough, whether against the

Palestinians or against any other enemy, Barak will have his chance to

defeat Netanyahu and Eitan. In either case, the victory of Netanyahu

and the possible ascendancy of Barak will mark the further shift of

Israeli politics to the right.