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By Micah Halpern

Thursday June 5, 2008


If Tzipi Livni is elected the next prime minister of Israel, she should say a big "thank you" to The Sunday Times of London.

And The Sunday Times of London will probably respond by saying "oops."

This is a story of a smear campaign gone awry. It is the story of misplaced values and misunderstood priorities. It is shoddy journalism from one of the most respected newspapers in the democratic world. The Sunday Times of London recently devoted space to a large and probably exaggerated piece on Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The newspaper had an agenda - to marginalize a serious contender for the position of prime minister. Instead, they elevated her status. If I didn't know better, I would say that Livni planted the story herself - but she would have been more accurate.

The Sunday Times of London may understand their British public, but they are clueless about the Israeli public. They reported that during the 1980's Livni, then a first year law student, took leave to become a Mossad agent attached to Israel's Western European operation. The Sunday Times claims that young Livni was attached to an assassination team charged with hunting down Palestinian terrorists in Europe. The story they tell runs similar to the story told in Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie, depicting an Israeli assassination team sent out to find and kill the terrorists involved in the 1972 Munich massacre of the Israeli Olympic team.

Tzipi Livni's connection to the Mossad is not a secret. Tzipi Livni's specific role in the Mossad has been and will probably always be cloaked in secrecy. But portraying her as an assassin is almost definitely a stretch. It has always been assumed that her role in Europe was that of analyst and gatherer of intelligence. An attractive woman who frequents coffee houses, chats up the clientele and pieces together and passes on the information she receives.

According to the piece in The Sunday Times Livni was part of a team specifically charged with gathering information needed to search out terrorists and then assassinate those terrorists. The Times does not place her as an assassin, but definitely as part of that team. The objective was to smear Tzipi Livni. The objective was to point out that Israel's foreign minister has a dark past, to point out that she acted to seek out and perpetrate assassinations. The objective was to point out that, as a law student on leave, she knew the difference between revenge and justice, she knew that justice is cold and revenge is hot. The Sunday Times of London had an obvious political agenda in writing this piece.

The next Israeli election might take place six months from now, it might take place a year from now. The timing of the election is unclear, the knowledge that Tzipi Livni will be on the short list as a candidate for Israel's top position is perfectly clear. The Sunday Times wants to influence the political field. The Sunday Times wants international leaders to begin exerting pressure and playing behind-the scenes games now.

But the plan is backfiring.

In Israel, the only place where it really counts, the political stock of Tzipi Livni has skyrocketed. What the Sunday Times failed to understand is that by circulating a rumor that Livni was willing and able to defend her country in a way few people can, that she was a part of the dangerous and secret world that defends Israel internationally, they showed that this woman, Tzipi Livni, has what it takes to lead the country.

Israelis like female leaders. They like them on the right of the political spectrum and on the left. They particularly like them if they have the strength to act to defend their country. In Israel this is not an inter-party argument, it is the sine qua non of every Jewish, Israeli party.

Israelis have a long history of senior leaders, prime ministers, having been in involved in dangerous and desperate acts in defense of their country. Benjamin Netanyahu, like his brother Yoni, was a member of the IDF anti-terror team and was one of those responsible for rescuing a hijacked plane. Ehud Barak was a member of a secret team and even disguised himself as a woman and entered Lebanon in order to assassinate terrorists. Yitzhak Shamir was Mossad station chief in Egypt and was also stationed in France after WWII, which would account for the superb French accent of this tightly wound little man who broke his teeth over English. Menachem Begin fought in pre-state Israel against the Arab terrorists and was responsible for blowing up the wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where the British were headquartered.

She is a woman. She is a defender of her country. She has political savvy. She has a track record. The Sunday Times of London has helped to strengthen Tzipi Livni's bona fides far more than it has damaged her.

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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