ISRAELI ELLECTION SOON…Palestinian-Israeli TV-Duel Leaves No Hope

Duel of Titans ends in Titanic plummeting

Throwing down the gauntlet

Roughly two months before the upcoming Israeli elections, politicians sharp their swords, throw down the gauntlet, and perform public duels in the hope of gaining votes. More often than not, the two politicians present similar ideologies, rendering rather tasteless events. Yet, on November 12, 2012, an extraordinary duel took place at Ynet’s TV studio between Palestinian Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi from the United Arab List (Ta’al) and Knesset Member Yariv Levin from the Likud. Ahmed Tibi is the leader of Ta’al and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset; most recently he was featured in this website at Israeli Astronaut Denied Memorial. Characterized by a sharp tongue, he is one of the most outspoken Israeli-Palestinians and is a usual target of Jewish politicians. Dueling him was Yariv Levin, a young Likud member, and part of the party’s aristocracy. His godfather was Menachem Begin. His mother’s uncle, Eliyahu Lankin, was a senior member of Irgun, commander of the Altalena ship and member of the first Knesset representing Herut, the Likud predecessor. In 1948, Ben Gurion and Begin fought over arms and ammunition smuggled by the Irgun aboard the Altalena. Ben Gurion feared the creation of a Fifth Column within the IDF, loyal to Begin rather than to his chain of command. Thus, he issued an ultimatum to the ship. The taunt was refused, and the subsequent armed conflict between the two forces led to the Altalena sinking and the death of sixteen Irgun and three IDF men. Nothing else mattered to all involved, neither the ongoing war with Arab countries nor the shaky international position of Ben Gurion’s fiefdom. The only thing that counted was the Ben Gurion-Begin duel, which seems to be an unfinished affair even nowadays. That is not all, Levin’s father was an Israel Prize laureate, and after his first term in the Knesset, he managed to legislate forty laws, a record. The audience of the Tibi-Levin duel could expect an “à la outrance” event, a duel ending with death. That is exactly what they got.

Ahmad Tibi (l) and Yariv Levin (r)Ahmad Tibi (l) and Yariv Levin (r)

Altalena Burning | June 21, 1948, Tel Aviv

Altalena Burning | June 21, 1948, Tel Aviv

Altalena MemorialAltalena Memorial

The Duel

A sharper dichotomy would have been difficult to achieve. There are several Knesset Members preaching more extremist ideologies, but if bringing them together the event would have probably ended in a scuffle. Even so, Tibi and Levin were merciless to the extent that things said there by the Likud member cannot be said elsewhere without being punished by law.

In his methodical approach, Tibi was obviously better prepared. He made a correct assessment of the facts, claiming “there are 42 laws in the State of Israel that discriminate between Jews and Arabs…Equality is not national or military service. Look at the Druze who serve in the army. They only count at the cemeteries, which is awful.” He added “the rift between the Palestinian factions is shameful,… the occupation is shameful.” Yet, such a soft approach seldom works, especially while dealing with the Zionist extreme-right. At the most touching moment of the event, Tibi said “I have rights on this land;” Levin answered “the land is ours.” Levin’s answer was brutal and barely related to the topics mentioned by Tibi. There is a Thai saying that accurately depicts his attitude: “To ride an elephant to catch a grasshopper.”

Much of the debate dealt with mutual insults between the two. The softest thing said by Levin was that Tibi should be expelled from the Knesset; “expel anyone who uses his office to help the enemy,” were his exact words. He added that all Palestinian Knesset Members are a Fifth Column and shoul be in jail. Tibi countered “to you any Palestinian is a terrorist. Levin is worse than Ben-Ari and Ben-Ari is a Kahane sympathizer” (i.e. member of a terror organization, see USA Denies Visa to Jewish Knesset Member). This phrasing is typical of Israeli politics, and would be automatically ignored by most denizens watching the event. Seeking to get a memorable punchline, Levin added: “Haniyeh needs to be eliminated, I definitely think that Ismail Haniyeh is a terrorist and I have no say on the timetable.” Ismail Haniyeh is the Hamas prime minister in Gaza. This is the rift Tibi had referred to, the PLO runs the West Bank while Hamas controls Gaza. In the 2006 popular elections, Haniyeh was elected, only to find brutal opposition from Israel. He was dismissed by President Abbas in 2007, but this was not recognized in Gaza. As of now, the Palestinian Authority is split.

“Politics” is sometimes defined as “the peaceful resolution of conflicts.” In this case, Likud member Levin openly requested the assassination of someone who is a political rival and not a terrorist. By doing so, Levin broke all rules of what is acceptable in the political world. Born out of Altalena’s wet ashes, Levin was faithful to the bestial violence of his forefathers. He chose to assassinate Haniyeh as Ben Gurion had decided to sink Altalena. No compromises were offered, nor can possibly exist. In his official violence, Levin lost legitimacy. A duel of titans ended in the Titanic plummeting of their own ship.

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