Israelis looking for heroes after useless war, journalist says in S.F.

“Where are all the great Israeli leaders?” mused Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz at a talk last week in San Francisco.

Given his propensity for wry understatement, the British-born journalist might have answered with, “rather elusive.”

In a country inclined to hagiography of its leaders, Horovitz’ breakfast talk Friday, Oct. 20 at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation could be construed as a bitter dose of reality. However, even amid the ongoing sex scandals, deception and ineptitude, Horovitz concluded that a fed-up Israeli public might yet produce a better breed of politician.

Paradoxically, Horovitz said that such internecine conflict indicated a return to normalcy after the war with Lebanon.

Israeli’s biggest obsession is with the trials and tribulations of President Moshe Katsav, noted Horovitz. Last week, Israeli police said an investigation had produced enough evidence to charge 60-year-old Katsav with rape, sexual harassment and wire tapping — some of the most serious charges ever leveled against an Israeli leader.

Horovitz said Israelis have been forced to reconcile the allegations against Katsav with the leader they thought they knew. That process is long overdue, he added.

“There are still very macho aspects of Israeli society” that permeate the country, a condition that has come to the fore due to the charges against Katsav.

“We are coming into the modern world, and demonstrably so with this story,” Horovitz said. “For too long Israelis have looked at their leaders and legendary figures through rose-colored glasses, and now that gloss is coming off.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t evade acerbic commentary, either. “He is trying to sell Israelis something they don’t believe — which is that we won the war with Lebanon. But Israelis just flat-out don’t believe it.

“This was an absolutely useless conflict” in terms of ameliorating the situation with the Palestinians, the journalist said.

Perhaps no leader has experienced as a precipitous a fall in public trust than Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister who should be rising high in public opinion polls, given the “rightward tilt” to the nation, Horovitz said.

Instead, the suave, erudite politician has exhausted his trust with the Israeli public due to poor fiscal policies as finance minister, according to Horovitz.

In discussing the aftermath of the summer’s war, Horovitz used the opportunity to touch on the regimes of Iran and Syria. Acknowledging that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a religious ideologue who wears his convictions on his sleeve, Horovitz stressed that when the Iranian leader says that he wants to destroy Israel, his words should not be dismissed as mere bluster.

The Israeli political leadership has no desire to engage Iran militarily, Horovitz explained, and would prefer international sanctions be put in place. Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad’s constant “stupid delegitimizing” of Israel has the Jewish state girding up for what seems to be an inevitable confrontation of some sort.

Conversely, Syrian President Bashar Assad is practically “begging for peace talks,” Horovitz said, with the biggest stumbling block being Israel’s refusal to give up the strategically important Golan Heights — or the skiing or wineries, for that matter.

“If Assad would speak in front of the Knesset, it would probably make all the difference in the world. After all, Israelis are notoriously susceptible to being wooed politically,” Horovitz said.

That’s not likely to happen, however. Whenever Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, was asked why he didn’t pursue peace in a similar fashion to Anwar Sadat, who did speak in front of the Knesset, the answer was: “Look what happened to him,” Horovitz quoted Assad as saying. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Egyptian leader died at the hands of Egyptian fundamentalist assassins in 1981.

Horovitz’ talks in San Francisco, Berkeley and at Stanford were sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, Berkeley Hillel and Hillel at Stanford.

He concluded his San Francisco talk by saying all signs indicated that the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists earlier this year — Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev — were alive and that an “asymmetrical” prisoner swap was a distinct possibility.