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Bolstering Bibi by deriding his backers

Former Israeli TV anchor Gadi Sukenik’s critique was clear: Anyone casting a ballot for Likud belongs in the baboon category.

Gadi Sukenik, January 2020. Credit: Roee Shpernik via Wikimedia Commons.
Gadi Sukenik, January 2020. Credit: Roee Shpernik via Wikimedia Commons.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 on Monday, former TV news anchor Gadi Sukenik unwittingly gave a boost to the very politician whose supporters he was trying to discredit. Discussing Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, the alternate premier who is about to replace Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the helm until the next government is established, he took a typically elitist stab at the competition.

“Yesh Atid members are at a much higher level than the societal average,” he announced, referring to himself and his cohorts, of course.

“Compare it to other parties that are ostensibly ‘democratic,’” he continued, using air quotes to demonstrate his disdain for the fact that the Likud Party, headed by opposition chair and former Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, holds primaries to select its list for the parliament. This is while Yesh Atid did so in January for the first time in a decade.

“Take a look at the body that elects [their Knesset members]; Likud, for instance. The Likud Central Committee is rife with interests, infected with all the diseases of the world. Those it selects are in kind. And, as a citizen—I try to say this as an objective citizen—they are generally at a much lower level than those of Yesh Atid.”

Asked what he meant by that, Sukenik replied, “A low level of functioning, of intelligence, of culture and discourse.”

Coming from the person who makes his living as the face of the company Credit Clean—and whose most recent claim to fame was his participation in the Israeli version of the reality show, “The Masked Singer”—this remark was both amusing and revealing.

Questioned as to whether he was really saying that Likud MKs are “less intelligent” than Yesh Atid’s, he gave a resounding positive answer.

“Check out the people!” he insisted. “The whole tradition of screeching and verbal violence in the Knesset—look at who’s been leading that, for years. Check it out.”

His attitude is par for the Lapid-led party’s course. That it will be magnified in the few months before Israelis go to the polls for the fifth time in three and a half years is also a given, as was the angry reaction on social media to Sukenik’s snobbery.

Though he avoided casting direct aspersions on Likud voters in the general population, the critique was clear: Anyone casting a ballot for that party and others in its camp belongs in the baboon category. Never mind that it’s more than half of the electorate. Since Menachem Begin became Israel’s prime minister in 1977, wresting the reins from the socialist Labor bloc, the likes of Sukenik have considered the “others” to constitute the dregs of the populace.

Many openly attribute the schism to the Mizrachi Jews, those of North African backgrounds, going as far to use epithets that they would never dare hurl at Arabs. The only thing accurate about the accusation is that the Mizrachim—hailing from anti-Semitic Muslim/Arab states—have tended to be on the right of the foreign-policy political map, as they have a dim view of the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. Begin was championed by a majority of them at the time.

This was long before Netanyahu emerged on the scene. But the same snootiness is applied to Likud voters today, despite the left’s forecasts over the decades having been repeatedly proved false.

This hasn’t stopped its members from remaining on their high horses, however, because much of the debate centers on the “quality” of the people who disagree with them.

Lapid supporters are particularly prone to this holier-than-thou mindset, which has more to do with culture and class than with policy. The legislators representing them are perfect for the task.

Take acting coalition whip MK Boaz Toporovsky, for example. During the plenary session last Wednesday on dissolving the Knesset, he announced that his party will be asking the public: “What do you prefer—love, light and unity, or fear, hatred and loathing?”

The chutzpah is so jaw-dropping it almost renders one speechless. Yet it nicely illustrates how Yesh Atid sees Israel as a collective.

Less apparent is what it stands for, other than aversion to religious “coercion.” This in itself is funny, since other parties, such as Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, also highlight this issue.

Ironically, Likud has just as liberal a take on Jewish ritual and the freedom of individuals to choose whether and to what extent to observe it. It’s the coalition system that’s been responsible for haredi power over religious institution and practice—something the left has experienced from within.

Furthermore, if Lapid and Netanyahu end up in a tie, the former will think nothing of wooing the haredim to push his bloc to victory, and it would be in his voters’ interest for him to do so. The same goes for Likud. It’s in the nature of Israel’s fractured parliamentary beast, which is in sore need of changing.

But one aspect of the anti-Likud crowd that can be counted on as a constant, with or without electoral reform, is contempt. The good news for Netanyahu is that the more Lapid and his ilk let their snootiness show, the greater the chance of spurring Likud voters to retaliate by shunning any potential inclination to stay home on election day.

Rather than going wild over the tone and content of Sukenik’s remarks, offended Israelis should welcome the transparent arrogance. His assertion of Yesh Atid’s “much higher level” of intelligence and culture is the best possible campaign slogan—for Likud.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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