Political Spin - Israeli Style

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

One of the fascinating aspects of American politics that has always intrigued me is spin. As we watch the unfolding primary elections, spin is at full throttle. Before the count is in the “spin doctors” appear on our T.V. screens twisting and turning everything into a victory.

For example, when it became evident that Governor Romney might lose the New Hampshire primary after losing to Governor Huckabee in Iowa, his spin doctors deftly turned losing both primaries into a win. After all, they asserted, he won the “silver” in both contests. National polls indicate that he is in the lead. Conclusion - Governor Romney’s two loses are actually two wins. It took me a moment to recover from this adroit surgery. How was it possible that losing two primaries makes you a winner? They are masterful surgeons of the spoken word.

Comparing the ingenious world of American spin politics with Israeli spin politics is fascinating. Spun, it seems, has an entirely different connotation to the Israeli politician. Based upon the premise that the average individual cannot remember what was said but a day ago, they simply state what they think those most vocal wish to hear without any compunction or concern. Ignoring the protest, they never consider alternative possibilities.

For example - Under the leadership of Prime Minister Barrak the first major attempt by an Israeli politician to divide Jerusalem into two capitals, one for the State of Israel and G‑d forbid, one for the Palestinian State was floated. Barrak’s views on the peace or more rightly the piece process were widely circulated. I, as many were shocked at what he placed on the table prior to any legitimate negotiation. The idea that a Zionist, an Israeli Prime Minister, a Jew, would offer to divide the City of David was a shock that reverberated throughout the Jewish world. Additionally, Barrak’s offer of territory appeared to be ceding more territory than Arafat had demanded. The logic of Barraks’ offer defied comprehension. As soon as he made his intentions known, however, particularly regarding Jerusalem protests broke out across the Jewish world.

At that time NJRAC, now the United Jewish Communities, was holding its annual national conference here in Chicago. Our own Chicago JCRC, as many others across the country responded to Barrak’s plan by passing a resolution declaring Jerusalem the undivided and eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish People. Our NJRAC delegates, of which I was one, were directed to cast Chicago’s vote in support of such a proposition which was to be considered at the conference.

The delegates, in the main, supported Chicago’s view. Between sessions of the conference the talk in the hallways attempted to understand what Barrak was trying to accomplish by this wholesale sell out. Prime Minister Barrak was scheduled to deliver a major speech at the conference. Everyone was eager to hear what he would say.

When we arrived at the auditorium we were confronted with protestors calling upon Barrak to support a united Jerusalem. As we waited to pass through security, many in line vocally indicated their support for the protesters. None objected to their message. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister was made aware of the timbre of the sentiments of the crowd he was to address.

And when he addressed the issue of Jerusalem, we were astonished. Barrak had heard our protests and the protests of many in world Jewry. Clearly, with emphasis and deep conviction, he stated he supported Jerusalem as the united and eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish People. The room exploded. Everyone rose to their feet cheering and applauding. A sense of relief and solidarity with the Prime Minister filled the jam packed auditorium. Barrak had changed his mind!

Yet the very next day, true to Israeli spin, Barrak was back to his old position strongly advocating a divided Jerusalem serving as the capitals for the States of Israel and Palestine. Thank G‑d, as has happened so many times before, the Palestinians, in the person of “our bizarre knight in shining armor” Yassir Arafat, came to the rescue. Arafat brought the peace process to an abrupt halt when he stated Barrak’s concessions were simply not enough.

Today, the later day Barrak, Prime Minister Olmert, without conferring with his own government, nor, it would seem, giving a heads up to the United States, placed Jerusalem on the “butcher block” once again. The result - major protests in Israel and in the United States. His partners in the present government eventually, after some pressure from within and from without, stated they would bring down his government if he ceded East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Olmert didn’t flinch. He stood his ground. World Jewry was taken by surprise once again.

Protests ensued. One such protest came in a letter to the Prime Minister from the membership of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, an organization of over one hundred Orthodox Rabbis in the mid-west and beyond. In the recent edition of the cRc monthly bulletin Chadashot, Olmert’s response to this protest was printed. On stationery from the Prime Minister’s Bureau, Rachel Risby-Raz, Diaspora Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister wrote in part:

“We understand your concerns about the future of Jerusalem. The issue of Jerusalem is currently not under negotiation with the Palestinians. We assure you, however, that in any future settlement, the Prime Minister will strengthen the Jewish character of Jerusalem, enhance its Jewish majority, and keep Jerusalem as the eternal, united and internationally recognized capital of the Jewish People and the State of Israel.” Am I wrong in thinking, given what we read every single day in the newspaper and watch on T.V. that we are just being treated to Israeli spin once again? Placate the protestor and go on your merry way the very next day.

Why is it I find myself yearning for American political spin? At least it attempts to win me over by clever argument rather than ignoring my concerns.

Olmert has placed Jerusalem on the bargaining table. For the Arabs once something is on the table it can never be taken back. Where is Arafat when we need him? Abbas holds but a tenuous control over the so called west bank. Hamas has taken and rules Gaza and is increasing its power in Judea and Samaria. It is in Abba’s best interest to negotiate a peace with Israel. Accepting half of Jerusalem as his capital will be a feather in his cap and may serve to buffer his limited power. And all the while Olmert continues walking down the primrose path hoping that he can quell the opposition by stating anything they want to hear.