Someone else's politics

 


It’s not easy. Perhaps it’s not wise, to comment on someone else’s politics.

American officials, and lots of American Jews, especially those to the right and left extremes, often sound like loonies when expressing themselves about Israeli politics.

Israelis have also blundered, at high cost. The greatest was Ariel Sharon’s certainty about the bridges he thought he was building with the Christians of Lebanon. We should remember Sabra and Shatilla, and everything else the Israelis did not get from the Christians. 

With all the appropriate reservations, recent events in Britain are too juicy to overlook.

Among the insights that may or may not be useful are those concerned with the problems of family squabbles spilling over into national politics, whatever we want to call anti-Semitism, and the problems of a Jew running for the top office in a country other than Israel.

Brits are referring to the political competition between the brothers Miliband as a soap opera, with no end of commentary about brotherhood and enmity. 

No one this far away, or even a lot closer can sort out, summarize, and judge such things. Nonetheless, it does seem apppropriate to wonder about pursuing family competition along with national politics at the same time.

Anti-Semitism in the election?

No doubt, but how much is impossible to determine given the slippery nature of the beast. Referring to Ed Miliband as weird, different, clumsy, strange, and/or “not one of us” may or may not be codes for something worse, or may simply summarize one’s view of a man made vulnerable by his candidacy, always being photographed and recorded, and not always capable of presenting himself fully scripted.


The adjectives used for Miliband remind me of George W. H. Bush’s campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1998. Bush was effusive in commending Dukakis and his family for struggling and succeeding as newcomers in the United States.

The subtext was something like, “This little Greek did well in becoming governor of Massachusetts, but he’s not really one of us.”

Miliband’s status as a Jew cut several ways, and may serve as a caution against any other non-Israeli Jew running for a top national office.

As long as Palestine and everything else in the Middle East is in the headlines, being a Jew is problematic. Not, perhaps for someone running for a national legislature or some other office below the national level. But someone wanting to be head of government will have to express him/herself on Israel and on everything associated with it. 


One can bet that whatever is said will win some and lose some voters. It’s hard to avoid specifics, and those are deadly to a campaign.

Miliband’s campaign showed him expressing support for Palestine, reminding voters that he had been critical of Israel, and losing the vote of British Jews. It may not have helped with some Jews that he declared himself to be an atheist, and was videoed chewing his way, not elegantly, through a bacon sandwich.

Was that video meant to hurt him among those suspicious of Jews who are not like the main stream and don’t know how to eat a bacon sandwich? Or among Jews, many of whom may eat what is not kosher but may wonder—even bristle—about a Jew making a point of it?

It’s also the case that none of us are elegant when we are eating. Thick sandwiches are especially dangerous for someone wanting to look attractive. It’s something to be done without the presence of cameras, although that may be impossible for a prominent politician in the age of smart phones. A Jewish Israeli politician dealing with a symbolic pita stuffed with falafel, salad, and French fries eaten among the Middle Eastern Jews of Mahne Yehuda—with no doubts about kashrut—won’t be any prettier than Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich.

Whatever the reasons, Miliband lost the election, decisively. Then he did the honorable thing of resigning from his party’s leadership.

Back home there is no shortage of politics that invite commentary. Since we left, the defense minister declared that Israelis and Palestinians must ride on separate buses in the West Bank, and then backed off under pressure. The deputy foreign minister declared that all of the Land of Israel was ours, thanks to the Almighty.

No doubt there has been more, and the Jews of Israel will keep us all busy, thanks also to the Almighty.

We can expect more of what we know from Bibi and his colleagues—hyperbolic blather far to the right, and little or no implementation. The left will moan the dangers to the people of Israel, including overseas Jews, and the right will blast Bibi for timidity.

Ira Sharkansky is professor (Emeritus) Department of Political Science Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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