Josef Olmert

On Wikileaks, Paul Begala and Israeli politics

WikiLeaks is fast getting very close to the top of my list of unfavorables. It is not because they may be manipulated by Russia, or because they are pro or anti any particular Presidential candidate .It is for something closer to for me, something personal. I am a trained historian, this is my professional claim to fame, and these guys from wikiLeaks may turn my occupation redundant and obsolete. Who will like to wait 30-50 years to the classification of government papers to be lifted, if you can have them through WikiLeaks in real time, or near it.? Well, surely we need great historians to make sense of the docs[and trust me, that I do not consider myself in that league…], but the suspense of waiting for the very information is not there anymore, and so our profession loses a lot of its relevance.

The latest WikiLeaks exposure contains a letter/memo from Paul Begala to John Podesta on the Israeli elections of March 2015. Begala is a well-respected American political strategist and TV commentator, a Clinton guy through and through. A Texan with a sharp oral skills , my favorite commentator. Podesta is a well-experienced American political insider, the chairman of the HRC current Presidential campaign. Begala worked for the Labor Party in Israel in 2015, alongside other Left-Wing and Liberal American individuals and organizations who wanted Bibi Netanyahu out. That in itself is not unusual, as Bibi himself has worked with American consultants, nor has there any problem with Begala and Podesta being so interested in Israeli politics, just coming to show that Hillary Clinton, whom I consider to be a total failure as Secretary of State, still valued good consultancy on foreign policy issues, also when out of the job, and while preparing her current Presidential bid. Just compare It to the boorish approach of her contender , but judging by the exchange between Begala and Podesta, She may need an improved level of Israel understanding[and no, I am not in line…]. Here is a general, profound problem of American political insiders/commentators when coming to evaluate Israeli and many other foreign politics ; They think as Americans, whether Liberal or Conservative, they Americanize the politics of others, and they do it either out of arrogance, ignorance, superficiality or comfortability, but the result is almost always bound to be wrong. So, here is a brilliant American commentator, Paul Begala, a man who will have the ear of the next American President referring to Netabnyah’s victory in 2015 and emphasizing RACE as a factor.

REALLY? , well there is and was no race involved in Israeli politics in 2015. Not also the obnoxious , reprehensible Bibi
alert to the Right Wing voters to come to vote because ”the Arabs were brought in droves ” to vote, was racial. Race is a factor in American society and politics, and in Israel it is NOT race, it is nationalism. Nationalism is a concept unknown to many Americans.They simply do not understand it, and instead of dealing with it seriously , tend to trivialize it by turning it into a question which makes sense to Americans, but is irrelevant outside of America. The conflict between us and the Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, is a national conflict, between two national claims to the same piece of land. It is compounded by the element of religion, is sustained by long historic legacies, and is explained by the two protagonists by narratives which are not part of the ordinary American political discourse. But this American discourse is based on American experiences, and Israeli and American experiences are so different.

Inadvertently, Begala relates to this phenomenon, while missing completely its political implications with regard to Israel. It is when he writes , that exactly as immigration patterns to the US, led to a Left-Wing turn in America, in Israel they led to a Right-Wing turn. True, but how and why? The backbone of the Right -Wing vote in Israel, and not Just Likud’s, is the massive mobilization of the Mizrachim to the Right -Wing. What Begala and many American Liberals , including many Jews , do not understand, is that the Right-Wing turn of many , if not most Mizrachim, has to do with their experiences in the Arab and Muslim
countries from they came. They turn Right-Wing as a reflexive, inevitable NATIONAL reaction to what they went through . Their experiences and consequent vote is part of the way they view the national conflict with the Palestinians. So, whether Bibi turned Right in the last four days or not[and he did sharply turn]] is secondary in importance to the fact, that he talked to groups of Israeli voters in a language which makes sense to them, using the nationalist narrative. When , for example, Btzelem of the Left-Wing is showing up in the Security Council of the UN , espousing their narrative, they may be applauded by American Liberals, but in Israel, this Btzelem issue is not one of freedom of speech, First Amendment in American terms, rather it is a question of nationalism vs the alleged opposite of it. We can be sure, that Btzelem contributed few more seats to the Right-Wing in the next elections, which will be before 2019.

It is ok therefore to the Begalas of the future to keep coming to Israel and advise and inform back to their political masters in the US, but please do it better, so that the next President, Hillary Rodham Clinton, will focus on the big majority of Israelis, rather than those who speak the Liberal American language.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina