1977 revisited.

Gvirotai veRabotai – Mahapakh!

Does anyone recall an election in a democracy which generated so many apocalyptic rants from the losers? I do. 1977’s Israel’s Mahapakh … and the more I think about it the more similarities I find.

This follows from a brief conversation on Facebook (screen grab) with a Clinton supporter. He was certain that the election of Donald Trump meant ‘literal Nazis were in the White House’; ‘the possible end of humanity within the next four years’; a dictatorship that would suspend US elections; nuclear war and ultimately catastrophic global warming. If this election was democracy then perhaps democracy should be scrapped.

Election night 1977 Haim Yavin and Hanoch Smith
Election night 1977 “Ladies and gentlemen – a revolution!” Haim Yavin and pollster Hanoch Smith.

In 1977, Menachem Begin, a reviled political outsider, whose name State of Israel founder David Ben Gurion would not even say out loud, did the impossible. With the help of ‘neglected’ Sephardi Jews of North Africa and the Middle East, or perhaps we should say their sons and daughters, he overthrew the Labor establishment.

מהפך “Mahapakh” – translated as upheaval or revolution, was the headline used by the Israeli media immediately following the 1977 elections.

In 2016, Donald Trump, a reviled political outsider, whose names raised laughter and derision, did the impossible. With the help of ‘neglected’ ‘White’ Middle America, he overthrew the establishment. An establishment, you could say, that consisted of both the Democrats in power and the mainstream Republicans hoping to take power.

In the Israeli example, as in the American, the defeated supporters were convinced that the end of the state was on the horizon. Climate change as a political issue hadn’t been invented yet but clearly Begin ‘would’ engage in reckless military adventures and bring the young embattled country not just to its knees but to a new Holocaust.

It is far too early to know if all or even some of the dire predictions for the Trump presidency will come to pass. However, it should be clear to all that thirty-nine years on Israel is still here – and strong. Do these political prophets also give stock market tips and, if so, are they more accurate than the pollsters?

Even more troubling, the under-educated, uncultured, not-one-of-us mass would take over. The late comedian Dudu Topaz would forever be labelled as the man who called the Begin supporters chach chach (a Jewish Sephardic man who is thought to be vulgar or violent person). How far is that from Hillary Clinton’s dismissal of Trump supporters as a Basket of Deplorables?

For that matter, how far is it from Daily Show host John Oliver crudely campaigning against Trump? His message was clear that ‘those’ people are somehow not ‘real’ ‘beautiful’ Israelis or Americans. He thought he was persuading undecided voters to choose Hillary Clinton. In fact, he was an echo chamber for people for those who had already made that choice, deluding themselves that they were smarter, more sophisticated, less racist, less anti-woman, more homophilic† than those who would vote for the Donald. Those people clearly didn’t understand their own self-interest unless a celebrity told them how to think.

In 1977 as in 2016 the election was accompanied by stories of scandal and corruption. Admittedly late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s wife Leah holding a (then illegal) dollar bank account is far less juicy than the Clinton home email server and Cash for Influence scandals but the same sense of disappointment in an administration that promised so much while claiming all the moral high ground was there.

One last similarity. In both elections most of the media became campaign surrogates for the losing party. They proved, once again that the experts can fail to read the writing on the wall just as much as the comedians.

The pollsters bolstered that feeling of inevitable victory for the losing side.

begin-trumpI brought up the idea that parallels could be drawn between Begin  and Trump’s victory over Thanksgiving turkey – how’s that for combining Israel and America?  It was predictably rejected. Begin and Trump, as people and candidates were unlike. I guess it is sacrilege to suggest it.

Still, they do have some attributes in common. The short, balding, modest Polish-born lawyer/rebel/writer/’terrorist’/politician and the tall American billionaire with the trademark comb-over both were highly charismatic figures. They had a way of talking, which if not actually oratory in the Obama sense, spoke right to their intended audience. Hillary Rodham Clinton, even if her supporters don’t actually admit it, possessed neither charisma nor the ability or perhaps the desire to speak to the deplorables. In part, that lost her the election.

For all that it’s hard, perhaps impossible, to imagine Donald Trump enduring a Soviet gulag for his beliefs as did Begin. It is equally hard to imagine the Israeli grabbing anyone by the pussy.

In 1983 the Israeli Prime Minister retired , in seclusion, to his small Tel Aviv apartment. Literally and metaphorically that’s about as far away from Trump Tower as one can get.

Begin's apartment vs.Trump Tower

Begin’s first floor apartment vs. Trump’s three storey $100 million penthouse.

David Guy
B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI

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