Main Op-Ed Page

Peretz's Binoculars
Gideon Levy
Send E-mail to Writer
Monday, February 26, 2007

Gideon Levy

The problem does not lie in his binoculars, but rather in our binoculars. The ethnic demon is still here, alive and kicking

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, right, gazes at a military drill through binoculars, apparently without realizing the lens caps were left on. The army's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is at left.

Amir Peretz again was caught in failure. Nimble media photographers managed to catch the defense minister looking through binoculars whose cap was still on. True, publishing the picture is a legitimate journalistic act. But when the picture is spread across the front page of the two most widely circulated newspapers and is part of a long, systematic campaign to portray him as ridiculous, one must ask: Why? Does the defense minister deserve such heaps of ridicule? Do we similarly disparage other leaders who are no lesser failures - the prime minister, for example? The main reason for the mockery - to be distinguished from legitimate, deserved criticism - is rooted in dark places: The problem is in our bigoted binoculars.

Peretz has failed as defense minister so far: He led the Israel Defense Forces into the most unnecessary war in Israel's history. He is not the only one to blame, and certainly not the first. The prime minister and chief of staff are more responsible, but no one ridicules them. Peretz is also justifiably an object of unprecedented disappointment for the left: Nothing remains of the Peace Now man we knew. Since he was appointed, Peretz has not done a thing to advance peace, uproot settlements or even significantly ease the occupation. But the left is not leading the mudslinging campaign against him. Rather, it is coming from other circles - his party, Kadima and the IDF. But they have nothing to complain about. Unfortunately, Peretz is no different from them.

Besides this futile war, it is hard to distinguish errors Peretz has made, only a lack of bold decisions. But, as noted, they are not attacking him for this. The insecurity and inexperience that characterized him at the beginning of his term are disappearing, and he succeeded in appointing a chief of staff to his liking. He is given no credit for being one of the only top figures who is not under criminal investigation, or for the fact that he lives in Sderot, far from the web of capital and power. We still prefer the fluent macho with the cigar, even if he is corrupt, to the inarticulate labor leader.

The dirty campaign being waged against Peretz originates from the prime minister's bureau, his party colleagues and the IDF. At the end of the week, some in the Labor Party were already warning that Peretz "is stealing the party again." Stealing the party? In what way did he sin? That he succeeded in signing up 25,000 members? Aren't these the rules of the game? But in Peretz's case, it is permitted to call him a thief. Would people be complaining like this about Ami Ayalon or Ophir Pines-Paz if they had succeeded in recruiting a similar number of people? The ridicule by the top IDF brass is infuriating: Before slandering the defense minister, the generals should first complete the reforms needed in the IDF. He "does not understand security"? And what about their ongoing failures? Peretz is certainly not responsible for the army's situation, which became apparent during the war and is evident daily in the occupied territories.

Indeed, let's call a spade a spade: The mockery of Peretz derives from racism. There is no other way to explain the systematic ridicule of his character: his English, his awkward pinning of ranks on the chief of staff, and the covered binoculars. This could happen to anyone, but we laugh at him. So let's remove the mask: Unlike many Mizrahim, Peretz remains a Moroccan who did not become Ashkenazi in his personality, mustache, mannerisms, diction or place of residence. Unfortunately, he discarded the mantle of the man of peace from Sderot, but he never switched the mantle of his ethnic origin. And he is paying for this now. The problem does not lie in his binoculars, but rather in our binoculars. The ethnic demon is still here, alive and kicking, this time at Amir Peretz.

E-mail this article: E-mail this article
§ Links:
bullet Ha’aretz
bullet More Articles by Gideon Levy
bullet "Barbarians at the Gate" - P h o t o  A l b u m
bullet "Bint Jbeil: Lest We Forget" - P h o t o   A l b u m