I don’t usually get too involved in the appointment of lower level Israeli government officials, but this one was too good to pass up. It brings me great sorrow to inform you of the untimely passing of Mark Regev as Bibi’s chief spokes-flack. Regev, consummate media propagandist that he is, is moving on to that great hasbara branding opportunity in the sky: London, that is, where he will become Israeli ambassador. What must’ve recommended him for his new job was all the fabulous lies he managed to tell during BBC interviews, all while keeping a straight face.
As you know (everybody knows this, right?), Israel is on the cutting edge of promoting its brand in the world market. And social media is where it’s at when it comes to marketing. Any 12 year-old Mark Zuckerberg can tell you that. Apparently, Bibi has been studying at Zuckerberg’s feet when he makes his pilgrimage to Israel to announce major Facebook investments in Brand Israel.
When seeking a replacement for the irreplacable Regev, Bibi naturally turned to the coolest spin doctor (in English) he could find: a hitherto unknown far-right fanboy named Ran Baratz. His new post has the catchy title, chief of national hasbara and media advisor to the prime minister.
The timing of the appointment is curious to say the least: one week before Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the White House and hondel for an 80% increase in U.S. military aid to Israel (raising it from the current $3-billion to $5-billion if Bibi has his way). After you read below the atrocious comments Baratz made about America’s Democratic political leadership you’ll wonder what Bibi was thinking. But the Israeli leader does seem to have impeccable timing for making the grand gesture that sticks his foot squarely in his mouth at the most inauspicious moment.
It almost makes you wonder whether perhaps Bibi does this delberately. Most leaders seek to put their best foot forward before making imporant foreign trips. Not him, he’s like a boxer who is always spoiling for a fight. And if the other side isn’t biting, he’ll provoke them until they do.
All I can say is that I hope to God Baratz joins Bibi on his trip to Washington. And when he enters the White House I hope they force Baratz to enter by what used to be the servant’s quarters. Because he isn’t fit for civilized company. Perhaps the Secret Service may even arrest him for impersonating a human being.
Baratz is a defrocked academic, who earned his PhD in classical Greek philosophy at the Hebrew University. After completing his degree he taught for a time there, but his contract was not renewed. It wasn’t a decision on the merits, to hear Baratz tell it. It was solely based on his far right views. Because an academic institution which makes Palestinian janitors wear special tags identifying them as non-Jews is certainly one that will persecute right-wing ideologues like Baratz!
Baratz also teaches on the “faculty” of the pro-Israel Tikvah Foundation. This Foundation is dissatisfied with existing Israel studies programs at American universities. They’re not pro-Israel enough. So it’s launched its own. Baratz appropriate found an ideological home there. On a related subject, Tikvah is one of the prime funders of Tablet Magazine, another pro-Israel shmatteh.
Baratz also serves as “academic advisor” to the far-rightist group, Im Tirzu, which seeks to purify Israeli academia by ridding it of “post-Zionist” dogma. He has also had a post-doctoral fellowship at the Likud’s American Enterpise Institute, the Shalem Center.
From academia, Baratz retreated to his settlement to lick his wounds. He came out fighting, launching a new political website, Midah (“Degree,” as in “proportion”), which featured right-wing political analysis and talking heads. Because there simply isn’t enough of that in Israeli media. We don’t have Yisrael HaYom, Maariv, Makor Rishon, Arutz Sheva, the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, and fourteen other media outlets spewing the same garbage already. We need yet another variant to satisfy our craving for militaristic, nationalistic rants.
It just so happens that either Bibi’s staff did no due diligence on this charming fellow or it knew exactly what it was getting and signed him up for service knowing he was poison. Yup, Mr. Baratz has quite a checkered history of incitement and petulant rants all published in plain public view. Maariv has served some of the best bits up on a platter for the not quite as insane Israeli public to read.
The best is his claim that Pres. Reuven Rivlin should be murdered if he was anyone of any consequence (but he isn’t). You read that right. Rivlin is one of the oldest of the Likud Old Guard. But like some truly loyal conservatives he remains true to first principles. People may not remember this from Israeli political history, but Likud and Herut before it were classical liberal parties in the English tradition. They believed in the value of the individual and the value of individual liberty. But the most secular and radical among them (and there were some) believed in according these rights not just to Jews, but to all citizens; including “Arabs.”
So while Rivlin does support a one-state solution, his version of it would accord Palestinian citizens equal rights along with Palestinian non-citizens currently living under Occupation. Rivlin would make all of them citizens of his unitary state. This is why the truly nutty settler far-right hates his guts; even to the point of advocating his murder.
On his Facebook page, Baratz features prominently a video of settler leader Daniella Weiss saying of Rivlin:
He’s not important enough to kill.
Baratz’s rejoinder is:
I said the same thing long before her. But it’s good that practical people [like Weiss] confirm the observations of theoreticians [like Baratz!].
But this Israeli Dr. Johnson wasn’t done yet. He took again to Facebook to rail against Rivlin for the crime of…flying coach. Yes, the Israeli president went on a State visit to the Czech Republic and on his return he [shockingly!] flew coach, or as Baratz disdainfully called it “tourist class:”
It says a lot that the President flies tourist class, circulating through the cabin shaking everyone’s hand. It says that he’s such an inconsequential figure that he has no fear for his life. We could probably even send him by hang-glider to the Syrian Golan, which is under ISIS control. The very next day they’ll send him back to us and ask to open negotiations for their immediate return [from Syria] to Iraq [where ISIS originated]. “Just so long as you take him [back]! Your president goes around camp shaking everyone’s hand, trying to speak to us in Arabic [Rivlin is a fluent Arab-speaker and his father a prominent Arabist] which he doesn’t know, proposes that we all unite since it’s a shame we are all separate tribes. In short, he has everyone here totally demoralized. Some here have even begun talk of founding a human rights organization to review the cruel use of jokes as a form of psychological warfare. The New Israel Fund has already expressed interest.
Baratz has also defended Bibi’s flagrantly false statements about the Mufti’s talks with Hitler about the Holocaust. In Hebrew that is so confusing it’s even hard to make out what he’s trying to say, he writes:
“It is better for you, Israel, that your prime minister wholeheartedly believes that the Mufti persuaded Hitler to exterminate the Jews than thinking – if only for a split-second of a daydream – that there is the possibility of not living here by the sword. The left accuses Netanyahu of denying the Holocaust, but does not hesitate to prove that it is stuck in the denial of reality, history, common sense and human nature”
A bit long-winded, and full of non sequiturs. But you get the gist. Who cares whether Bibi got history right. He knows what it will take to survive in this jungle. And all you have to do is stick with him without sweating the small stuff–like facts, and truth.
This is clearly a guy with far too much time on his hands since he got canned from the University. As you can imagine, Pres. Rivlin is none too pleased with the news that the prime minister’s new chief propagandist would favor murdering him, if he were a person of any consequence. He reminds Bibi that this jackass is being tasked with representing Israel and its policies before the world. How does it look to have a professional spin doctor saying it wouldn’t bother him one bit if the president of his own country was murdered?
He’s also one of the settler True Believers when it comes to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple:
The will to build the Third Temple is a worthy Jewish and Zionist cause of the first order…Would that a way could be found to do it.
He says in that clueless way rabid ideologues have that the Jewish Temple could be rebuilt without starting a war with Muslims. He doesn’t say how. But if the Muslims refuse to accept it–then indeed, he says, there would be war. There you have it. Nice and neat and wrapped in a bow: the historical future of the Jewish people is one of religious holy war.
Our man doesn’t stop with his own president. Why not insult some Americans too while we’re at it. He said Secretary of State John Kerry has “the mental age of a 12 year old.” He also has a “promising career” in his future as a “stand-up comedian in Kansas City, Mosul or the Holot detention facility [where African refugees are imprisoned]. This guy’s a regular comedian himself. Obama? A “modern anti-Semite.”
Baratz now walks about with his tail between his legs. Well, not exactly. It’s all a big joke to him. But you should believe him, he’s learned his lesson. When I published those comments I did so as a private citizen, he says. Now, I promise to be more circumspect. Um, that’s not the way it works, haboob. You are judged as a public figure by the entirety of your previous experience and statements. You will not, I promise be much different once in office from what you were before you joined the government. If you were an oaf before who stuck your foot in your mouth at every opportunity, you will be the same now. Except that the media, always interested in a good laugh at politicians’ expense, will be watching like a hawk for every misstep and misspeak. And there will be oh so many of them. Of that you may be certain.
When asked by a reporter whether he would follow the government “line” or a rightist one (as if there were any difference!), he responded that he didn’t see his job as political and would serve in it as such. Wonder of wonders. A man tells the truth (his version of it, anyway) as a private citizen. Then he’s appointed to a government post and starts lying like a sociopath.
If Israel were a half-sane place I’d say Baratz’s political future was non-existent. But latter-day Israel is a place where insanity and toadying is rewarded with plum assignments. So it’s anyone’s guess whether this ass will have a job tomorrow or not. I’d guess his appointment will be quietly shelved and in another three months we’ll find him quietly placed inside a ministry with a cushy new post. It’s the way of the world, Likud-world.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.