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.”