Jewish Home Party Chairman Naftali Bennett on Saturday night assembled a press conference at his party headquarters in Petah Tikva, following “controversial” remarks he had made on Thursday, that, should he receive an order to evacuate a Jew from his home, “my conscience will not allow it. I would ask my commander to release me.”
At the press conference, Bennett insisted that he did not support conscientious objection.
“I do not call for disobedience and I never called for refusing orders,” Bennett said. “I’ve been serving as warrior for 22 years, and fought in all of Israel’s wars. I never called for refusing orders. In the Likud they pounced on my words, twisted them and created a false image. I spoke from my heart’s blood, and I do not apologize for what I said.”
So far, had Bennett stopped right there, I would have said he received really bad advice, but at least had the good sense not to ruin whatever positive image he had created during his clash with the bestial Nissim Mishal, a yarmulke wearing television host who makes Mike Wallace look like Charlie Rose.
Mishal ambushed Bennett, attacked him personally in condescending tones, practically cursed him out, cut him off whenever Bennett disagreed with the charges against him, and when in doubt, turned to a team of “experts,” each of whom had his or her own biased, aggressive pack of “research” to dump on the candidate.
Israeli Television has some beautiful, touching shows that are a marvel of artistic achievement. Nissim Mishal’s show is a pit stop on the information highway. Bennett didn’t have a friend in the room – and he held his own quite well. He could have scored higher had he watched more Moshe Feiglin tapes – unlike Feiglin, Bennett appeared like he was actually trying to persuade his host to listen to him. Feiglin has long ago decided that his hosts, by definition, are knife wielding assassins, working for his enemies, and so he speaks over their heads, directly to the audience.
Still, Bennett scored a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 for his overall appearance. Towards the very end of the torturous interview, Mishal asked Bennett if, as a major in the army, he would carry out an order to evacuate Jews – and you’ve read his answer above.
It was a great answer, which all his enemies immediately took out of context, to mean that Bennett was advocating that it was a good thing for soldiers to refuse an order. Hence the press conference Saturday night.
I thought the press conference was unnecessary, especially not on a Saturday night, right after Shabbat. It’s called letting the other side define you. If they call you names, that’s OK, they’re your enemies. But if they call you name and you drop everything to tell the press you don’t deserve those names – you inevitably look like you might deserve at least some of what they’re saying.
If you take your time, and then decide which unique manner of response suits you, and you stick to your own script, rather than change it in order to answer the other side’s accusations – then you haven’t let them define you.
So Bennett committed the first error of a novice by calling the press conference. But it looked like he was coming out of it without losing too many points – when he picked up a piece of paper and read:
“…But I’m a public leader, and now I will say it clearly: a command to uproot a Jewish community is a fatal blow to the most basic human rights, placing soldiers in a dilemma. It is a tough dilemma and cannot be swept under the rug.”
OK, not so bad, I thought, he’s restating what he had told Mishal, something for the press to take home – we might be out of the woods.
And then he said, in the serious tone of a politician who had been drilled by his advisers that he had to say it, had to eat the stinking fish, read it from the paper in his hands:
“But in the end, when push comes to shove, a soldier must fulfill military orders.”
Oy, a broch, goes the Yiddish adage, usually accompanied by a deep, heartfelt sigh.
Oy, Naftali, Naftali, why did you have to go and fix what wasn’t at all broke? How could you be so stupid? And who are your advisers? Send them home!
My friend, the late, beloved, feisty radio host and television director Adir Zik, spent many an on-air hour bewailing, ridiculing and condemning what he used to call “Ha’chip ha’dafuk,” the screwed up chip of the National religious Israelis. How can it be, Adir would argue, that the country’s most productive community, its least cynical, most eager to serve, most moral and, by far, most stable and reliable men and women would be portrayed by the media (he coined the term Tishkoret, a play on Tikshoret-communications, and sheker-lie) as nothing better than parasites, suckling on the government teat, thugs with nothing better to do than terrorize defenseless Arabs, uprooting their olive trees and stealing their herds. How is it, Adir wanted to know, that when Prime Minister Rabin is murdered under murky circumstances (a lot of details are still not clear on that one) a group of more than one million citizens is blamed for it, and made to feel like pariahs in their own country.
But most enraging of all – how is it that these sweet, giving and moral people are accepting second-class treatment from their government—across the board—in the name of the “good of the state” (Mamlachtiut)?
That, Adir determined, was because of the broken chip inside the brain of every National Religious Jew. The defective chip was genetic, inherited from one’s National Religious parents. Essentially, it helped its carrier to accept their rank as second class citizens in a country they built with their blood, sweat and tears.
This is why their party, the NRP, Mafdal, was represented in the voting booth by the letter Bet, B. Only Mapai, the center-leftist precursor of today’s Labor party, had the letter Alef. “We have the letter Bet,” Adir used to say, “because we think we’re Sug Bet – grade B.”
I elaborated this much about my beloved friend because last night I watched in horror how the screwed up chip theory proved right once more. I watched Naftali Bennett, the great white hope of the NRP crowd, backtracking from what I had thought was a brilliant strategy.
True, he said he wasn’t apologizing; true, he actually repeated his view that an order to uproot people from their homes, be they Arabs or Jews, would be an assault on democracy. But in the end, he pulled the Mamlachti shtick, the “good of the state” demon, and put it squarely on his own back. For the record he stated that, if push comes to shove, a command is a command, and a soldier must obey orders.
Sure, he whined a lot about being misunderstood by the media, and about the Likud attacking him for the sake of another quarter seat. He even challenged Netanyahu, demanding to know whether or not he would evacuate Jewish towns. But in the end, what the media in Israel has been selling at high volume is that Naftali Bennett retracted.
On a different show, Friday morning, Moshe Feiglin held his own against a hostile panel, telling them that disobedience is a fundamental democratic duty – not just right, but duty. I would advise Bennett to hire Feiglin as his campaign manager – both of them could do worse. Feiglin would soar in a big party where he wouldn’t have to sell his principles to the likes of Chayim Katz, and Bennett could benefit from the experience, imagination and resolution of an excellent warrior.
The January 22 elections are an opportunity for more than one million National Religious voters to get rid of their second class mentality, dislodge the broken chip. We deserve to be the largest party in this country because we have an equal footing in Western culture as well as our own tradition. We are the best that this country has every produced, and we should be the best at leading it, if we start thinking of ourselves as a real, unified movement again. And, according to the polls, a significant chunk of secular Israelis are prepared to vote for HaBayit HaYehudi because, for once, its leader has a lot of sensible things to say about issues other than the Hesder yeshivas and the settlements.
But make no mistake about it – this coming Netanyahu government will have on its agenda the creation of a Palestinian state east of the security fence, and this will mean, necessarily, the uprooting of many thousands of Jews.
If Naftali Bennett does not establish that he will not only encourage soldiers to refuse a fascistic command against Jewish civilians—but that he would personally lie on the road in front of the trucks – then we have no reason to vote for him.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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