Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What an idiot!


What an idiot!

By MARTIN SHERMAN

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is the most dangerous man in Israeli politics today, a good-looking, charismatic, overconfident fool, an affable ignoramus with no intellectual gravitas, devoid of moral principle, but with the gift of a silver tongue and the unmistakable – and largely undisguised – penchant for demagoguery and dictatorship.

I understand nothing about economics
- Yair Lapid,  Minister of Finance of the State of Israel

I am saying what we need to do is something – Yair Lapid – in The New York Times, on the Palestinian issue.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is the most dangerous man in Israeli politics today, a good-looking, charismatic, overconfident fool, an affable ignoramus with no intellectual gravitas, devoid of moral principle, but with the gift of a silver tongue and the unmistakable – and largely undisguised – penchant for demagoguery and dictatorship.

This is not the topic I had planned to write on this week. I had something entirely different in mind. But Lapid’s two infuriatingly smug interviews with Charlie Rose earlier this week made a change of priorities imperative.

Uninformed know-all 

The spectacle of someone, without any background in military matters; who admits to having no understanding of economics; with no knowledge of international affairs and certainly no experience in their conduct; whose scholastic achievements do not even include high school matriculation, pontificating to all and sundry on how the affairs of the nation should be run, is so galling that it cannot be left without riposte.

It is even more vexing since Lapid has conceded that he has been forced to discard many of his preconceived opinions he held prior to entering politics, once he encountered the realities after entering them, confessing earlier this year to The New York Times: “I used to have so many opinions before I learned the facts.”

Yet judging from the Rose interview, this has left him unchastened. His brashness undiminished, he continues issuing – with commendable self-assuredness – proclamations that were either meaningless, self-contradictory or unfounded.

Indeed, Lapid has the telegenic presence and charm to make utter nonsense sound almost intelligent, the wildly implausible, almost reasonable – unless you listen to what he has to say.

As one of the creators of the Lapidometer, a satirical website that parodies Lapid’s pronounced penchant for the use of social media, commented: “We noticed that the Yesh Atid party spends a lot of time on Facebook instead of engaging in parliamentary activities [but], their posts don’t say anything. They’re full of beautiful text and very little substance. A bit like Yair Lapid.”

Documented ignorance 

In many ways the political ascendency of Lapid is a perplexing conundrum. For there is such a staggering number of documented instances of his embarrassing ignorance and faux pas that it is difficult to comprehend how the public was duped into voting for him in such large numbers. Even more astounding is how his political rivals did not use this documented abundance to demolish his public image and undermine his credibility.

For example, Haaretz (March 25, 2012) revealed how “Lapid got enmeshed in a myriad of embarrassing [preelection] blunders.” To illustrate the point: Lapid appeared at the prestigious Reali school in Haifa before a group of pupils and parents. During his lecture, he presented an array of facts and figures that were not only inaccurate but, at times, entirely fictitious, referring to imaginary comparative rankings of Israel in various field of scholastic endeavor, and to nonexistent tests – which he suggested be abolished.

The Haaretz article also referred to a scathing review of Lapid’s writing on a wide range of topics by B. Michael, a well-known, distinctly left-leaning publicist, on the popular TV program Media File.

The critique is so caustic and telling that I feel at least some of its highlights merit citation here – translated from the original Hebrew.

An embarrassing catalogue 

B. Michael begins his withering assault with an episode in which Lapid, who as mentioned earlier did not complete high school, was admitted to a prestigious program for studies toward a PhD degree at Bar- Ilan University. Participation was limited to graduate students with exceptionally high grades in their BA degrees.

Lapid was originally admitted on the basis of his “literary and journalistic achievements.” But his admission provoked an investigation by the Council for Higher Education that oversees the nation’s universities.

This investigation determined that Lapid’s achievements were insufficient to justify his enrollment in the program, and his admission was revoked.

B. Michael admits that many tend to acknowledge that Lapid has “special talents” but he himself has serious doubts.

After reading some of Lapid’s writings, B. Michael found that these doubts only intensified. 

He explains why: “Let’s begin with Ancient Greece. Lapid writes on Athens and enumerates the great figures of ancient Greece: Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Copernicus... Copernicus??!!! Copernicus was a Polish astronomer who lived in the 16th century with no connection whatsoever to Ancient Greece. Oh well, a “minor” error of two millennia. I suppose these things happen.

“In the very same article, he lists the great Renaissance artists: Michelangelo, Leonardo [di Vinci], Donatello, Giacometti... Giacometti??!! There was indeed a great sculptor, Giacometti. But he was Swiss and died in 1966! The Renaissance ended somewhat earlier – believe me! Anyway, at least the magnitude of the error was reduced – to “only” 500 years.”

Embarrassing (cont.) 

B. Michael jibes: “Perhaps his talents lie in political science. But no. That won’t work either.

In a extensive article on the US Constitution, Lapid commends it – because it was not written by a committee (heaven forbid) but by one inspired individual called John Adams.

“Good grief! The US constitution was composed by a committee comprising dozens of people. John Adams was not even in America [at the time]. I have no idea where he got his ‘facts’ from,” B. Michael writes.

B. Michael has more: “What about foreign languages? Are you sitting down? Do you know how he translated the word “forefathers” i.e. our biblical ancestors? It’s all in black and white in the newspaper? The four patriarchs!!... There happen to be four matriarchs but only three patriarchs. I have no idea whom he was referring to – perhaps Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and... Copernicus!!! 

“Only because of time constraints, I refrain from telling you what he did to Shakespeare and Julius Caesar – in an attempt to defend [Ehud] Olmert – not for some righteous cause. May God forgive him because Shakespeare certainly won’t. All of this is – believe me – a mere drop in a very large bucket...,” B. Michael writes.

Arrogance and indolence?  

B. Michael ends with an observation of significance for this analysis: 

“But seriously, these errors are not merely journalistic ‘glitches,’ not just amusing displays of ignorance. They reflect a great deal of arrogance and negligence because if you spend 20 seconds at a [computer] keyboard or three minutes with an encyclopedia, it won’t happen to you with such frequency. And if a journalist is not prepared to engage in minimal research, it reveals something about his... abilities.”

This is merely a partial extract from the critique, and I urge Hebrew-proficient readers to view the entire video (available on YouTube) – not only to acquire a comprehensive overview of B. Michael’s “review,” but to share my amazement that it was not used intensively by Lapid’s rivals in the last election to discredit him and his Yesh Atid party.

One might have expected that they would have had a vested interest in ensuring that such a damning expose would go viral. Yet, at the time of the election, there had been only about 30,000 views of the video – barely above the number of votes required for one Knesset seat. Perhaps much of Lapid’s impressive success was due to the indolence/apathy of his adversaries more than anything else.

Back to Charlie Rose 

Well, to get back to the Charlie Rose interviews, the catalyst for this column. Throughout both of them, Lapid’s lack of substance and poor grasp of the issues were painfully evident.

His recurring theme was that he had entered the political arena to effect change – strongly implying that this was something only he could achieve. Yet throughout the lengthy exchange, he gave no indication as to how such a desired change is to be achieved.

Rather than elaborate on any actionable policy prescription, Lapid went little beyond generic declarations of intent – strongly reminiscent of the introductory excerpt: “I am saying what we need to do is..something.”

He reiterates time and again his concern for the middle class, who hitherto have borne the brunt of the policies he has initiated. He claims he is committed to enhancing their situation. But apart from professions of goodwill, he gives no clue as to what measures he proposes to adopt. He rejects trickle down economics as benefiting only the rich, declaring that measures must be undertaken to enhance the lot of the middle class directly. But what measures he has in mind remain a mystery.

Details would be nice 

So, is he going to intervene in free market forces of supply and demand in the labor market to raise salaries and wages? If so, how? What will this do to the competitiveness of Israeli firms? Will higher taxes on the rich precipitate a flight of capital to milder fiscal climates? Will tax increases drive large corporations away, or constrict foreign investment? How would all this impact the middle class and their welfare? Of course, to address these questions one needs to have an understanding of economics which Lapid confesses he hasn’t.

When confronted by Rose on his acknowledged lack of understanding of economics, he blithely shrugged off the question, asserting that he doesn’t need to be an economist, since he has hundreds of economists working for him. According to Lapid, all he has to do is chart a course for them and make decisions to ensure that course is taken.

At first sight, this might sound reasonable, but of course it begs the question of how he can evaluate competing proposals and their possible consequences, without having some grasp of economic fundamentals? 

Appalling lack of understanding 

But it is perhaps in the field of foreign policy that Lapid exhibits his greatest ineptitude. For despite his hard-nosed posturing, his proposals seem to be, at best, a mixture of naiveté and myopia. According to him, Israel shouldn’t seek recognition from the potential Palestinian state; he proclaims with typical brash inanity: “We recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We don’t need authorization from anyone else.”

This of course might be a position of some merit, if one was not seeking accommodation with the Palestinians, but is totally senseless, if, as Lapid claims, he is devoted to the peace process. For withholding recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is not tactical posturing by the Palestinians but strategic positioning. By refusing such recognition, the Palestinians would preserve the rationale for continuing to press for “right of return” for millions of Palestinians-Arabs into to a “non-Jewish” state.

By forgoing the demand for this recognition, Lapid, in his naiveté or myopia, is complicit in facilitating future demands for the implementation of a ruinous right-of-return.

But incredibly, Lapid seems to believe that the Palestinians have already relinquished their demand for “return.”

In the Rose interview, he bases this astonishing claim on a single statement on Israeli TV by Mahmoud Abbas, ne’er to be repeated, that he understands that he will not return to his former home in Safed. Not only does it require extraordinary doses of naiveté, myopia and self-delusion to believe that such a statement would be binding on the Palestinians as a whole, but it was denied almost immediately – including by Abbas himself, who reiterated that his statement “did not mean giving up the right of return.”

Indeed, one day after the interview, none other than Abbas’s personal spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, declared that its “purpose was... to influence Israeli public opinion.”

Sure seems to have worked on Lapid!! 

I could go on – but I am sure you are starting to get my drift.

Something very basic and very bad 

The phenomenon of Yair Lapid’s rise to political prominence points to something very basic and very bad in the nation’s body politic. It epitomizes the grave malaise afflicting Israel politics, starkly illustrating the dysfunctional superficiality that has come to dominate it.

The challenges confronting the country are daunting.

To contend successfully with them we need leaders of substance and depth. Lapid does not appear to fit the bill – not by a long shot.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Into-the-fray-What-an-idiot-328445