Television in Israel last night saw another round of election ads. Tuesday night’s advertisement by Likud-Bietenu was positive, highlighting the achievements of the government over the last four years. Wednesday night’s, however, attacked the members of the Jewish Home’s candidate list.
Here’s the video, followed by the English translation:
“Who is really hiding behind Bennett’s smiles?
“Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan number four on the Jewish Home’s list called for the removal of the committee on the status of women.
“Orit Struck, number ten, who called to levy a legal ‘price tag’ from IDF commanders and the police.
“Moti Yogev, number nine, that led the separation of boys and girls in Bnei Akiva.
“Harav Dov Lior, the spiritual leader, who said Baruch Goldstein is holy like the holy ones (victims) of the Holocaust.
“Harav Zalman Melamed who called on soldiers to refuse an order.
“This is the real Jewish Home (party). Before you vote, check whom you are voting for.”
The last time Likud-Beitenu attacked Bennett on his “refusing orders” statement (which he recanted later) and then on the same issue of the other members of the Jewish Home, many people were upset that the Likud was attacking the Jewish Home. “Why aren’t they attacking the left uniting the nationalist camp?” they complained. The notion that one cannot attack a party or politicians who agree with you on ideological issues is absurd. For month’s Bennett has been attacking the Likud and many members of his list have been doing so publicly for years. (Ayellet Shaked of course was a Likud member until six months ago and based on her appearance in the My Likud magazine probably intended to run in the primaries, so she has not previously attacked the Likud). To say that the Likud can’t criticize Jewish Home in kind is to say that the Likud must standby as the Jewish Home takes its voters.
As for unity of the nationalist camp, if the Jewish Home or Bennett wanted a united nationalist camp they wouldn’t have a separate party. Half the point of political parties is for people to collectively campaign for public support. The nature of campaigning in a democracy is you are either with a party or you are against it. There are many of us in the nationalist camp who have chosen the path of national unity by joining the Likud even though we disagree with certain policies or statements by a Likud Prime Minister. Like Menachem Begin, we believe in a big-tent nationalist movement that can ensure Israel stays on a path towards success and security for generations to come. Of course it takes work and vigilance to ensure that the movement stays on that path, but the election of the MKs on the Likud’s list, the vast majority of whom publicly oppose Palestinian statehood, proves that such work pays off.
If Bennett and others wanted national unity they would have either joined the Likud or they would have at least offered to merge lists prior to the election. If that were the case, they would preserve their right to leave or vote against the government as a group, but leading up to the election the Right would have a united front. They probably could have gotten between 7-10 seats in a united nationalist list for that. But that was not their goal, instead they sought to go after the maximum seats possible, by taking voters from Likud and Yisrael Beitenu.
But the inquiry into whether an attack is fair or not does not stop there. It is fair, and perhaps even obligatory for a public figure to be attacked on something that was negative true. A party or a politician has the right to show why he is / they are better for public office than a competitor. And, the public has a right to know about troubling things candidates have said and done.
There are, however, limits on what constitutes a fair attack. An attack should not, for instance, be misleading. A quote should not be taken out of context to the extent that someone reading or hearing the quote believes the candidate meant something that he did not.
That brings us to the attacks on the other members of the Jewish Home party’s list. Of course, members of a party should stand up to public scrutiny. One of the great flaws of Israeli politics is that most Members of Knesset never face public exposure, they compete in internal party primaries or are chosen by central committees or leadership councils. When people vote for a list they typically don’t know much about most candidates of that party’s list. This election’s Jewish Home party is an excellent example of that phenomenon. Over the last primaries and merger with the National Union there was a clean sweep of candidates. Orlev and Hershkowitz, whom the public had come to know were ejected, and three of the four members of the National Union’s Knesset faction left the party. Who will potentially comprise the Jewish Home’s Knesset faction is mystery to the public and the public has a right to know. And, as these people are candidates, other parties have a right to criticize them.
So the attacks on the list in this election spot are not inherently unfair.The question remains as to what was said about each candidate mentioned in the advertisement.
“Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan number four on the Jewish Home’s list called for the removal of the committee on the status of women.” In a television appearance next to MK Tzipi Hotovely, Ayelet Shaked claimed that Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan had not called to cancel the Knesset committee on the status of women, but had called for its merger with the committee on children’s right to create a committee on the family.
The Likud attack here was fair because practically Dahan called to get rid of two committees and create another. This would subjugate the entire issue of women to the category of the family. The entire point of the Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women is a recognition that the status of women is a separate and special issue that needs its own committee. Women are mothers, but they are not only mothers and don’t want to be treated only as such. Getting rid of the women’s status committee does exactly that. There is nothing in Judaism that says women’s only role in society should be in the home. The view that Dahan presented with his proposal is not accepted by most Israelis or even members of the national religious community and should be exposed to the public.
“Orit Struck, number ten, who called for levy a legal price tag from IDF commanders and the police.” I’m not sure of the context of this statement, but there is nothing wrong with extracting a legal price tag. In fact, in a society ruled by law, a legal price tag should be extracted for any state action against the citizen – this results in state officials thinking twice before they do something that is potentially illegal by first checking with their legal advisers. It also ensures that a court oversees what has happened and corrects any injustice that occurs. Going to court over state actions against the citizen as much as possible is not only legitimate but it is the tactic used by all civil rights organizations in all democracies.
The “price tag” reference, however, could be problematic, depending on the context of the statement. To publicly approve of the price tag acts – which are not disobedience, but simply youth expressing their frustration at the expense of other people’s property – is not correct. For a private person to say something like this is another story, but for a public person to talk loosely and legitimize such illegal acts which hurt the public perception of residents of Judea and Samaria is a strike against them in deciding whether to put that person in the Knesset.
While people have a right to know that Struck is part of the battle against evictions and expulsion – in fact this could help the Jewish Home list – the ad is unfair in that it takes advantage of the fact that the public will pay more attention to the ‘price tag’ part of the comment. But then again a public figure should be careful not to lend legitimacy to the price tag attacks.
“Moti Yogev, number nine, that led the separation between boys and girls in Bnei Akiva.” It could be claimed that this is just Judaism. That would depend on the extent of the separation and what sect of Orthodox Judaism you fall into. But certainly their is a trend towards separation of the sexes that has many negative affects on society, contributing toward viewing women as homemakers or sexual objects. It also correlates to a rise in a campaign of ignorance in which science – the study of God’s creation – is viewed as anti-religious and towards educating whole segments of society not to earn a living but instead to live off of society. If a candidate is someone who is contributing to that, then people have a right to know and make a decision. An attack ad in and of itself can never fully discuss the issue or the candidate’s role in it, but Yogev and the Jewish Home have the opportunity to respond.
“Harav Dov Lior, the spiritual guide, who said Baruch Goldstein is holy like the holy ones (victims) of the Holocaust.” If this is out of context then it is extremely prejudicial. But it’s pretty hard to imagine what other context there could be to this. Even if there was, for a public leader to say something like this and not realize what it could be taken to mean also indicates that perhaps that he may not deserve a platform in the Knesset, so this is fair to bring up to the public.
“Harav Zalman Melamed who called on soldiers to refuse an order.” This revisits the refusal of orders issue. I disagreed with those attacks on Bennett for a variety of reasons, which I look forward to writing about in a non-election period. Recalling Melamed’s statement here is nowhere near as negative as those attacks on Bennett. In fact, as Bennett recanted his statements about refusing an order, and denied that he had endorsed mass refusal (though if a public leader says he will not follow an order that has the effect of calling for others to refuse, regardless of what qualifiers he puts on it), Bennett himself might agree with the attack and wish Melamed was not on his list. My problem with the ad is because of the negative overtone it paints on any case of refusal as wrong when in fact no reasonable person would agree to that.
So some of the attacks in the ad crossed the line, but only somewhat. Even if some of the language was taken out of context, it does enhance public knowledge of these people and may in fact lead more people to vote for the Jewish Home.
But the main point about negative campaigning is that it cannot be claimed that it is unfair for one party to attack another, but not for the other to attack back, or that it is inherently unjust for political parties who compete for the same voting base to attack each other.
Whether it is an effective strategy or not is a different question. With many of the attacks – the unfair and the fair – the Likud is pandering to the holy grail of the center, which I am still not convinced actually exists, or at least to the extent and in the way the media would characterize it. That doesn’t indicate anything about the Likud’s future territorial policies, but it is sure to cost it more votes among the public whose votes it desires and that is just bad campaign strategy.
About the Author: Daniel Tauber is a frequent contributor to various prominent publications, including the Jewish Press, Arutz Sheva, Americanthinker.com, the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. Daniel is also an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York and received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. You can follow him on facebook and twitter.
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