Photo Credit: Ehud Barak via Twitter screen grab
Ehud Barak's new political party campaign poster for "Democratic Israel' 2019

Some years ago, Ehud Barak invited me to his home. He wanted to get to know me. We sat for about three hours talking about history and Talmud, philosophy and poetry, policy, and the army. Barak is highly impressive, with a broad perspective, the likes of which I have encountered in very few people.

I told him that, in some ways, he had become the Shabtai Zvi of his camp. Barak was the Messiah who was designated as Yitzhak Rabin’s successor. He was destined to redeem his followers from Benjamin Netanyahu and resurrect the spirit of Oslo. And yet, it was Barak who coined the phrase that buried the hope of peace when he returned from Camp David and told the nation the truth: “There is no partner for peace” on the Palestinian side, despite the unprecedented concessions he offered them. It was an admission of the failure of the concept of “land for peace.” As far as many of his followers were concerned, this was an act of heresy that went against what for many years had been the raison d’être of his political camp. Barak’s confession was tantamount to the conversion to Islam of Shabtai Zvi who turned out to be a false Messiah.  You too, I told him, have been marked as a false Messiah.  He smiled faintly and agreed with me.

But, I added, the analogy is not merely a historical-literary comparison: It has, I said to him, implications on your actions, because, since the failure to make peace with the Palestinians, you have tried consistently to once again become the anointed leader of your followers, and you do not shy away from any means. Because when it comes to your view, what is the difference between you and Netanyahu? Name one topic I requested of him, where you think the exact opposite of what he thinks, and the differences between you are so great that you are unable to cooperate. Barak had no major issues to raise. That was before all the legal accusations. I told him that my conclusion was that his tireless motivation, which had become a crazed obsession, stemmed from personal affairs: Barak was Netanyahu’s commander in Sayeret Matkal and now his subordinate had outdone his commander. That, from Barak’s perspective, was inexcusable.
The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, by Gustave Doré (1865) \ Photo: Gustave Doré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Your ego, I said, is greater than the historical imperative to serve the people in any capacity. God gave you a talent for leadership, and instead of harnessing it for the good of the nation and joining forces with Netanyahu as you did in his second government, you have become the spearhead of a civil war that focuses on the leader of the other camp, with the hope of bringing him down or at least sullying his name and engendering animosity toward him. This is not leadership, I told Barak, and history will judge you. This is an unfortunate repetition of the brothers’ jealousy of Joseph, which led to the historic separation between the kingdom of Judah (the sons of Leah) and the kingdom of Israel (the sons of Rachel).

The hatred of Netanyahu does not stop with him but is also directed at the masses of his voters who do not heed the sages and astromancers who prove with signs and wonders that Netanyahu is the root of all the nation’s catastrophes. This week I heard former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz tell journalist Sharon Gal that his 200,000-strong audience is not who he wants to talk to. This is the truth – Barak’s merciless ego war has dragged down the entire nation, which for several years has been rocked by the boycott of the ruling party. I was in Italy during the three strange years, which began with Avigdor Lieberman’s boycott of Netanyahu that led to a political stalemate and endless rounds of elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Italians who were the first in the West to drink from the poisoned chalice of the coronavirus looked at the opposition demonstrations in Israel and the irresponsible criticism of Israel’s lockdown policy, which put it in a far better position than most countries (at a time when there was still no vaccine!) and could not believe what they were seeing. I was asked on more than one occasion whether we have lost our minds. Indeed, it was not the coronavirus that was the issue, but rather the obsession with Netanyahu. Then came the establishment of the so-called “government of change” which preferred Mansour Abbas over Netanyahu. Naftali Bennett cooperated with this historic move. By stealing the post of prime minister, despite his promises, he retroactively agreed to the brothers’ hatred of Joseph. He of course said that he did it “for the people,” but so did the brothers when they banished Joseph, for after all, they were saving the future of the nation. And what will people think of us a hundred years from now?

Hatred blinds us and prevents us from seeing the suffering of the nation. The current demonstrations have no real purpose. The slogans about democracy are childish. Democracy has always come naturally to us and is not in danger. On the other hand, breaking up assemblies and conferences and persecuting representatives and speakers from the other camp in an attempt to humiliate them is an ancient practice – Mussolini’s followers did so about a century ago. Woe the historical irony. There is no culture of debate here, merely a flight from public debate because every debate legitimizes the other side’s positions, and therefore its fate is to be detonated by the proponents of one-way democracy. Identity politics has long since arrived in academia. This is especially so in the humanities and social sciences where climbing the academic ranks often depends on political identity, and all the more so when it comes to freedom of speech, which is reserved solely for one side’s opinions.

This past Shabbat, we read the story of Korah. It is for good reason that we have retold this story for thousands of years and it has become the paramount example of a dispute that is “not for heaven’s sake,” as our sages in Tractate Avot defined it two thousand years ago, but one that is about ego, positions, and who will lead. It is a dispute that “does not endure” – that is, it does not stand on a foundation of truth. The controversy led Korah, one of the most talented leaders of the desert generation, to sully Moses’ name, and in the process, he incited the people against Moses using claims of equality (“All of the community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s people?”). And when that wasn’t enough, his followers pointed out Moses’ “corruption” saying that he had brought the people out from Egypt, which was a land flowing with milk and honey (“Things used to be good, until you came and destroyed everything…”) just to prevail over them and to receive benefits as a ruler, and that he hadn’t kept his promises to bring them to another land of milk and honey and arrange lands and fields for us.

The words of incitement worked. A significant part of the public began to believe. The results were dramatic: the burning hatred between the camps created an enormous black hole that split the nation and threatened to swallow everyone, while all around us the daughters of the Philistines cheered. Now, Tehran and Hezbollah laugh at us and expect to reap the fruits of civil war just as once took place between Juda Aristobulus II and John Hyrcanus II, the sons of Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai) and Salome Alexandra (Shlomtzion) who in the first century BCE fought for the monarchy and brought Rome to take sides among us. That’s how we ended up losing our independence.

The Korah story is a warning sign for all of us. Even if the earth has opened up its mouth and swallowed him and his men, the spirit of Korah continues to hover among us and create new sinkholes. Ehud Barak and his friends need to know that they are not dealing with just one person but with the people, the vast majority of whom know of the harms caused by civil war and therefore reject this attempt to set brothers against each other. This is how Nathan Alterman prayed for the nation at another time when we were besieged by our enemies in the first years of World War II: “Give her strength, merciful father, give her strength/ Do not let her fall before her time without strength.” Do not despair. We shall overcome.

{Reposted from IsraelHayom}

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