Back in 1999, when former Israel Labor Party chief Ehud Barak became prime minister (ousting then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), I was working as an executive personal assistant at Tel-Ad Television, based at the Jerusalem Theater.
Walking through the halls the morning after, you’d have thought the secular messiah had arrived.
“He’s the ‘people’s son!’ – you’ll see!’ one giddy top producer crowed to me as I brought him his morning mail, his noble words scarily echoing Stalin supporters in the 1930s, and slavish kibbutz members in the 1950s.
“I’ve waited years to open this!” another ecstatic corner-office TV exec cried to no one in particular, as she gaily popped the cork on a dusty bottle of champagne on her shelf.
All they were lacking was an accordion and campfire, arms linked and singing Israeli pioneer ditties from the storied kibbutzim, I mused to myself as I hurried down the hallways.
In the offices and meeting rooms, nearly the entire administrative staff was in similar throes of a collective political group orgasm, not unlike the morning after Barack Obama’s ascension to 1600.
I saw that steamy ideological group grope up close, as well, covering his first win for Georgia Public Broadcasting radio, at a ballroom at a swanky hotel downtown.
Here, perhaps like there, every “deplorable,” “bitter-clinger,” “alt-right” cliche’ about the Israeli media being firmly in the hands of the Left was proven to me beyond any shadow of a doubt that morning.
One of the handful of traditional/religious Jews on staff, I remained quiet, and listened thoughtfully, carefully, but with growing apprehension to the swooning accolades of unalloyed Barak supporters.
On May 24, 2000, “Israel announced that it would withdraw all troops from South Lebanon. All Israeli forces had withdrawn from Lebanon by the end of the next day, more than six weeks before its stated deadline of 7 July,” according to Wikipedia.
Later, days after the infamous overnight, hurried IDF retreat from South Lebanon, which helped bolster the Hezbollah into the mortal threat and arch-foe it is today, I mildly asked one of his former cheering-section admins in our offices of this was the goal he had in mind when he exultantly rejoiced in Barak’s election.
“Oh, hell no!” he snarled at me, “not like this!” his face a bewildered mixture of shock, disgust, and fear over the disastrous equipment – strewn and humiliating retreat:
“The Israeli pullout resulted in the collapse of the SLA [South Lebanese Army] and the rapid advance of Hezbollah forces into the area. As the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew, thousands of Shi’a Lebanese rushed back to the South to reclaim their properties. This withdrawal was widely considered a victory for Hezbollah and boosted its popularity in Lebanon.”
The former IDF Chief of Staff and defense minister once boasted that he would remold the forces under his command into a “clever little bastard of an army.” (“צבא קטן, חכם וממזר”)
Media critics at the time scathingly averred in response that the IDF was small anyway, not terribly clever in its mad rush from the “Land of the Cedars,” to the north, and that, while “success has many parents,” failures like the Lebanon pullout always die a bastard orphan.
On May 8, 1972, Barak – then commander of the IDF’s legendary Sayeret Matkal SpecOps team – led a commando squad that included Netanyahu among its warriors, to safely overcome four Black September hijackers holding 90 passengers hostage aboard a Sabena airliner at the then-named Lod Airport.
Netanyahu was wounded in the arm by friendly-fire in the operation.
Later, however, one of the genuinely lauded heroes-with-feet-of-clay of Israel would go down in history as possibly one of the most unsuccessful, inept, and reviled politicians in the history of the modern Jewish State.
And now the “clever little bastard,” is back once again, trying to oust Netanyahu – who is facing a slew of corruption charges, this time in an as-yet-unnamed party and with some electoral friendly-fire of his own.
A trenchant look back at Barak’s decidedly mixed legacy is here.
US-born Dave Bender is a four-decade immigrant to Israel, a veteran cross-platform bureau – chief, reporter and editor in both countries, and is a long – term observer of the Israeli political and cultural scene. He now works as a photographer and videographer for clients worldwide: www.davidbrianbender.com