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Sunday, Sep 25, 2022
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Opinion

The Fat Lady Has Not Yet Sung

What is the difference between soap and a political leader?Ask any of the "experts", copywriters and "strategists", and he will tell you: None ... My own answer is: There is a hell of a difference.

The Fat Lady Has Not Yet Sung
The Fat Lady Has Not Yet Sung
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Ask any of the "experts", copywriters and "strategists", and he will tell you: None. Selling soap and selling a leader is one and the same. One does marketing research, finds out what the consumers (= the voters) want and gives it to them. All one needs is some good copywriters.

My own answer is: There is a hell of a difference.

Who am I to talk? Well, I am not quite an outsider. I have fought four hard election campaigns, three on behalf of the Haolam Hazeh - New Force Movement (1965, 1969, 1973) and one on behalf of the Sheli party (1977). I won three and lost one. I have tasted both victory and defeat and know the pressures, provocations and temptations lying in wait. In this respect there is really not much of a difference between the campaigns of a small and a big party.

From my first experience, I drew a set of conclusions which I tried to apply later on:

First, Define your message and stick to it, without deviating left or right, whatever the temptations may be (and there are a lot).

Second, The message must express your inner truth. Otherwise it will convince nobody.

Third, The message must suit the image you have acquired before. It is very difficult to change that image during the campaign. One can only reinforce and sharpen the image that is already there.

Forth, The message must be simple, clear and easy to absorb.

Five, Don't stutter! Don't defend yourself! Don't apologize!

For a candidate for Prime Minister, this is not enough. He must arouse the public - if not by his personality, then by his message. He must dictate the battlefield, so that his opponent will be compelled to fight where he is weak. He must attack, so that his opponent will be on the defensive. He must not follow the public opinion polls, but rather create a new political reality that will produce different opinion polls.

When Amram Mitzna appeared on the scene, I hoped that he would do all this. Indeed, I expressed this hope in this column.

From the start he had a new and invigorating message: To place peace at the head of the agenda. To reopen the negotiations that were killed by Ehud Barak. To negotiate under fire, because that is the only way to stop the fire. To talk with Yasser Arafat, because he is the only person able to sign a peace agreement, if convinced, and convince his people to accept it. To achieve peace between the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine. And even before that, to order the unilateral withdrawal from all the Gaza Strip, the dismantling of all the settlements there and the isolated settlements on the West Bank.

This message has a great potential: The Israeli public is fed up with the situation, it knows already that there is no military solution, and it is being told that there is no political solution, either. There is no security, the economy is in tatters, there is no solution in sight. Therefore, the voters are escaping from the serious problems to trivial ones, such as those personified by Tommy Lapid of the Shinui party. There was a need for a person like Mitzna, in order to rekindle hope and, perhaps, to win. That was the way to invigorate his party, win more seats in the next Knesset and prepare it for victory at the next round.

I knew that this would be difficult. The Labor party was not ready for a glorious enterprise. After two years as a national whore in Sharon's government, it is old and tired, a pitiful sight indeed. The party hacks did not believe in victory and conspired to bring the new man down.

Worse, the "advisers" chained Mitzna as the lilliputians did to Gulliver. Don't talk about peace, they warned him. Don't even mention this terrible word. Peace is poison. The public does not believe in peace. It wants a wall of separation. The wall is popular. So talk only wall, wall, wall. Everybody hates Arafat, join them.

The advisors have succeeded in dimming Mitzna's vision. The rousing clarion call sounded sometimes like disjointed sounds. They made peace disappear without a trace, they turned the wall into an overriding aim. They talked about what to do "if there is nobody to speak with" - killing the very hope that was supposed to carry their man to victory. They worshipped the polls.

The polls can indeed lead a politician to his downfall. They are part of a vicious circle: when one tells the public what it wants to hear, one necessarily voices worn-out and banal ideas. If one voices worn-out and banal ideas, one cannot excite the public. One is boring.

Mitzna has not strayed from his original message. In spite of all the temptations, he has not uttered a word that contradicts it. In an election campaign, a candidate may be excused for emphasizing one part of his message more than another, in order to gain votes, but the question is: is it wise?

That is the real debate: should Mitzna dim his message in order to attract the voters who waver between Labor, the Likud and Shinui - or should he do just the opposite. Should he sharpen his message and tell the public that there is hope, that peace is possible, that there is somebody to talk with, that a government headed by him will effect the historical breakthrough started by Rabin and bungled by Barak?

It seems that Mitzna himself is hesitating between the two conflicting options. Therefore, he was unable to dictate the battlefield. Tommy Lapid, a man with an irrelevant but popular message, succeeded in doing this with his talk about a "secular unity government", a pipe-dream, but a dream that arouses hope in a public intent on escaping from reality.

In the end, the battle will be decided as a confrontation between the two leaders. Sharon is a dangerous, unscrupulous and disastrous person, but he radiates leadership in a way that goes straight to the collective unconscious of the masses. Mitzna is a sane, sober, honest and reasonable person, and perhaps because of this he lacks this radiation. He can excite only through his vision.

This is not yet the end. As the Americans say, "The opera is not finished till the fat lady sings."

There are 10 days left. Mitzna must use them in order to sharpen the message and call the whole camp to the decisive struggle. Already he has taken a courageous step by declaring unequivocally that he will under no circumstances join a new Sharon-led government of national disaster.

As I have said from the beginning, it needs a miracle for Mitzna to win this time. Such a miracle can still happen. But even if it does not, he can stiffen the back of his party and instill it with a new spirit, so as to enable it to bring down the next rightist government, if there will be one. As Menachem Begin said in his time: We shall serve our people in opposition.

Whatever the outcome of this round, the real struggle has only started.

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