Forwarded from The Jerusalem Post of July 23, 1996
It isn't easy to say what qualifies a right-wing politician for hate status among the left.
SHORTLY after the elections I found myself involved in a spate of arguments with horrified and bitter left- wingers. I soon realized that if these arguments were to be at all viable, I had to observe this rule of thumb: Do not mention the names Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan. Why? Because my disputants' reaction to them bordered on the hysterical.
Having lived in both the US and Israel, I am struck by a point of close family resemblance between left-wingers in both countries. There is the same tendency to demonize to the point of collective, obsessive hatred certain politicians of the right.
In the US Richard Nixon (later somewhat reprieved) and Ronald Reagan come to mind; a rising new star is Newt Gingrich. In Israel, recipients of the honor include Menachem Begin (later somewhat reprieved), Yitzhak Shamir and, of course, Sharon and Eitan.
One should distinguish between two levels of left-wing animosity toward these figures: out-and-out hatred (Nixon, Reagan, Begin, Sharon, Eitan) and a milder variant, derision, (Gingrich, Shamir). It isn't easy to say what qualifies a right-wing politician for hate (or derision) status. After all, some of the major ones in the US George Shultz, George Bush, James Baker; in Israel Moshe Arens have been more or less exempt.
Regarding Sharon and Eitan, for instance, left-wingers say that the hatred stems from their role in the Lebanon war. Begin, however, was lustily hated well before that war broke out; Shamir never initiated a war. Indeed, if the causing of casualties in wartime is the reason for the animosity, one wouldn't expect even Laborites Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to have emerged so entirely unhated from the Yom Kippur debacle, several times more costly in Israeli lives than the Lebanon conflict.
Back in the US, the fact that Nixon was the one to extricate US troops from Vietnam put there mainly by his left-wing predecessor Lyndon Johnson did nothing to lower Nixon in the hate ratings.WHAT the seven despised right-wing politicians seem (with one exception) to have in common in this: They are all blunt and forceful, in some cases salty and even derisive (Nixon, Begin, Sharon, Eitan) in challenging sacrosanct ideas, policies and values of the left. The left reacts to this kind of challenge with alarm and fury.
The exception is Shamir, not known as a forceful, incisive speaker. But Shamir, as noted, was derided, not hated derided as a fatuous dolt who stuck to right-wing policies at a time when the left demanded a quick peace through concessions. Figures such as Shultz and Arens, in contrast, seemed too polite and gentlemanly to offend anyone, even when espousing (especially Arens) strongly right-wing views. Bush, for his part, was too bumbling and incoherent in public to arouse much wrath. As for Baker, he tended to stay out of the right-left fray, though some of those not on the left found him abrasive.
In any case, once a right-wing American or Israeli politician calls the left-wingers' bluff, accuses them of being the ones to favor policies that are stupid and destructive, he becomes a figure of truly cultic hatred (or derision). This focuses not just on his ideas and policies, but on his appearance, mannerisms, way of talking and background. Among American and Israeli right-wingers, there is no comparable cult of nuanced, personalized hatred toward any figure on the left. Where does all this leave Israel's new right-wing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu? At this point Netanyahu is already a figure of derision, though not hatred, on the left. While famously suave and polished, he is direct and outspoken in taking the left to task for failures and advocating a new approach and the left is already riled.
As noted, though, two major right-wing hated figures, Nixon and Begin, were later excused somewhat and given retrospective credit for foreign-policy initiatives the left approved of. Netanyahu too may still win a reprieve, if he succumbs to domestic and foreign pressures and resumes the former government's path of reckless endangerment and appeasement.
If, on the other hand, he stands firm, insisting that the lives and security of Israelis are not an acceptable price for handshakes and accolades, he stands a good chance of making the ascent from mere derision to full-blown hatred. (c) Jerusalem Post 1996
P. DAVID HORNIK is a writer and translator living in Jerusalem.