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Noam Schalit - instead of Knesset, go home

It’s not enough that for years, Israeli society dropped everything it was doing and ultimately risked people’s lives to bring Noam Schalit’s son home. Now he wants Israeli voters to send him to the Knesset.

The whole Gilad Schalit saga was so weird, so unnatural, so out of proportion – why didn’t we all just commit mass suicide to show how much we cared about him? – and now it’s gotten plain disgusting. Noam Schalit is running for Knesset, on the Labor Party ticket.

It’s not enough that an entire country basically dropped everything for this guy’s son, for this guy himself – it’s not enough that countless victims went routinely forgotten so that we could give all our thoughts to Gilad Schalit and his family. It’s not enough that we released lots of serious killers and endangered people’s lives so Gilad Schalit could come home to his family and his family could have him back. No, it’s not enough. Now Noam Schalit wants us to vote for him, too.

He’s got an image of humility. This is another lie that nobody dares challenge. He demanded that the whole goddamn world stop whatever it was doing to get his son back. Maybe I would have done the same in his place, or maybe I wouldn’t have, but if I had, I sure as hell would not have been acting humbly. What was Noam Schalit doing all those years? He was saying: My son isn’t just another suffering individual who deserves his fair share of attention – no, my son is the equal of multitudes of suffering people, my son is a whole public, my son is everybody’s son, and everybody has to care about him like they care about their own sons, and put the country in danger for him, too.

It reminds me of a routine that Al Franken (now Senator Al Franken) used to do on Saturday Night Live, when he’d tell people, “It’s the Me Decade, so it’s time for all Americans to start thinking about me – Al Franken.” This was Noam Schalit’s message to Israelis, to Diaspora Jews, to every foreign dignitary who visited Israel and made the obligatory stop at the Schalit tent and put on a sober expression, just like they were visiting Yad Vashem. The difference is that Yad Vashem represents six million people, while the Schalit tent represented one.

I put the Gilad Schalit phenomenon down to a kind of mass hysteria, to nationwide peer pressure. Meanwhile, how many parents of children who were killed in war or terror, or were maimed for life, or even who died young of cancer or got killed or crippled in car accidents – how many of them must have asked themselves:  Why doesn’t any stranger say a word about my child? Is Gilad Schalit the only victim in the world? Is the Schalit family the only family that deserves sympathy?

The whole thing was just very bizarre, it was all wrapped in taboo; Gilad Schalit and his family were the most sacred of sacred cows that could ever be. In the end, Israeli society agreed to a move that, on the basis of past prisoner exchanges, will get many more Israelis killed. I went along with the decision, too. I was happy to see Gilad Schalit freed, too, I was happy for his family.

But that’s it. These people have gotten enough attention, enough everything from Israeli society; it’s time for them to say thank you, go home, and let us think about saving some other lives, about alleviating some other families’ suffering.

But no, Noam Schalit now wants us to vote for him to be one of our national leaders, to have political power. What has he done to earn it? Nothing. He’s not a hero and neither is his son. Like his son, he suffered terribly, but he’s not alone in that, and his suffering, after all, did end, so if there’s a big sympathy vote out there in the next Knesset election, it might be nice if it went to one of the countless Israelis whose suffering over their children has never ended, who never got a moment’s sympathy from the public, and whose names are unknown.

It’s not going to happen, of course. Noam Schalit could very well get elected to the Knesset, and if he does, it will be because he is Dad in the all-time Israeli feel-good movie. He makes Israelis feel good about themselves, good that they have such generous hearts. Too bad that when it comes to politics and to life-and-death matters that aren’t so easily personalized and sentimentalized, they have mush for brains.

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    1. Shelly

      Coming on the heels on yesterday’s events in the Circus, I would say that Anastasia Michaeli should “go home”. Not Noam Shalit. I’m not saying that he’s politically savvy, but yes, he does make me feel a bit better about my countrymen than some crude water-slinging rascist.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Alex

      If it were my son, I’d want the whole world to stop what it was doing to get him back. What’s wrong with that? Succeeding in doing so is a pretty good qualification for a potential politician IMO. On the whole, an article unworthy of your writing skills.

      Reply to Comment
    3. I really think you should lighten up a little on this one, Larry.
      In the General Election of ’97 here in the UK, the war correspondent, Martin Bell, took on, and roundly defeated Neil Hamilton, the then comfortably sitting Conservative MP for Tatton after Hamilton was embroiled in the now infamous ‘cash-for-questions’ scandal.
      Thus Mr. Bell became the only independent MP elected to the House of Commons for well over forty years and was seen by many as having a restraining influence on some of the excesses that political lifestyles there seem to foster.
      His position meant that he could criticise both sides of the House and still command the support of his constituency as well as that of the vast majority of people in the country at large. It made quite a refreshing change from the more usual type of mindset that our parliamentary system seems to encourage.

      Maybe Mr. Shalit, having gone through an ordeal none of us would wish to emulate, has found some epiphany he wishes to share with the rest of Israeli society and sees this move as his means of doing just that. So, let him have his say and good luck to him.

      It must be said that he can hardly do much worse than many of those already elected to serve their country’s interests. Given what you and I already know of quite a few Israeli public figures, past and present, the UK home-grown variety would seem to rank as complete amateurs by comparison.

      Let us hope there will still be room for a few more like Mr. Bell. And also Mr. Shalit.

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    4. Jay

      Shalit wasn’t forcing his opinions or love of his son on the Israeli public. The Israeli public understood that for Israel to be what it is, every young man is the son of the nation and deserves to be brought home.

      How can you begrudge Shalit for trying to bring his son home and for reinforcing a core value of peoplehood in this country? And now, how can you begrudge him for using his publicity for something positive, something influential, and something more useful than attending chat shows or giving pointless interviews?

      Personally, I wish Noam the best of luck.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Mesho

      I agree with your thoughts, Larry. Something fundamentally bothered me when I read about Noam’s intentions and you’ve identified it here in this article. It really seems like megalomania– everything is about Noam and his son Gilad and God forbid the media or the world forget it. These elections are going to be a dog and pony show.

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    6. Danny

      I agree with you, Larry. Noam Shalit is proving himself to be quite the opportunistic politician. I supported his just campaign to free his son, but his running to the knesset is very smelly business indeed. He probably got an offer he couldn’t refuse from labor’s new ‘iron lady’ and thought “oh, well… why not make a living out of my new career as a celebrity dad”. Very distasteful.

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    7. Manny

      I agree with Larry on this one except I think that Noam was plain selfish to push for 1000 released terrorists for his son.Yes, everyone has been endangered by this exchange and worse yet, we have encouraged terrorists to kidnap more. Noam’s behavior was not a sign of leadership, he did not look out for the good of the nation. He is not leadership material.Unfortunately today, very few MKs are.

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    8. sh

      You said it yourself, Larry. In his place, you would have done exactly as he did: move heaven and earth to get your boy back. And you get the psychology just about right in your last paragraph. The dark side we manifest “over there” doesn’t bear thinking about so we give charity, love and spoil our children to distraction even when they’re grown up and are overcome with certainty that at base, there’s no warmer, altruistic or generous a people than we. Gil’ad was everyone’s son and we were all Noam Shalit. (The only people I noticed demonstrating against the Shalits were settlers and their supporters.)
      Whatever his reasons, Noam Shalit feels empowered by his experience and is trying his luck. Why should he not? If he kept a lower profile would that change the reality of all the unfortunate people you mention? My only reservation is that he’s possibly yet another political aspirant who is neither a leader nor interested in focusing on issues I hold dear. And heaven only knows, there are too many of those already!

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    9. Richard Witty

      I wish Noam Shalit much success in his efforts to apply moderate liberal principles within Israel, to humanize the other, to speak for human consideration over defense and over ideology.

      More power to him.

      You should support his effort Larry, not diss it.

      And, you should do similarly, run Larry run.

      Reply to Comment
    10. AYLA

      Has anyone considered the possibility that after all that, Noam Schalit wants to give back to this country? Remember when government positions were considered public service?

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    11. AYLA

      p.s. I don’t know anything about the man’s politics, and would imagine, actually, that it would be hard for him to challenge the country much, now, which would make him a dangerous candidate. Just saying, in terms of his motivation, do we have reason to believe it’s about his being in the spotlight, and not about his serving all the people who stood by him?

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    12. KL Ching

      Run Larry run. Your messages are sobering and wise. Find out if your countrymen can be inspired by an enlightened voice and forge a new direction for Israel. Start by publishing and distributing a position paper on key issues. By pass the existing political parties. Now that would be a very worthy effort and document of considerable national value. Run as an independent.

      Reply to Comment
    13. A great idea, KL Ching.
      Larry would certainly get my vote – except I don’t have one, not here in the UK. And you are quite right about him being an enlightened voice and pointing to a new direction. As for his position paper, I would suggest he concentrate on this thought.

      Don’t try to find out why this conflict has been kept in continuous session for what seems like forever. Just find out what it is that they won’t fight over, what they won’t dare to fight over. Figure that one out and the solution becomes obvious.
      Don’t figure it out and he might as well not bother; he won’t be bringing anything that’s new to the discussion.
      And this discussion needs new ideas and fresh initiatives, now more than ever.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Richard, KL and John, thanks so much for your support, I really appreciate it, but I think I would have certain liabilities on the campaign trail. For one, I curse a lot. Also, I hate to shave. I’m very impatient and yell and punch inanimate objects (and curse). I’m chronically late. I HATE getting telephone calls when I’m busy, and tend to be extremely rude. I talk with my hands a lot even for a Jew. I fidget, it’s impossible for me to sit or stand still. This is just the stuff off the top of my head. But if we can come up with a more civilized candidate, I’d be happy to be an unpaid consultant – on issues, not how to smile and all that. To victory!

      Reply to Comment
    15. Mitchell Cohen

      In all fairness to Noam Schalit, I have a feeling he was tugged on no small amount by Labor and Yakimovich, in particular, to run for a spot in the party. Labor is quite desperate to get out of their lying around and collecting dust status, so they see Mr. Schalit as an iconic figure who fits the bill. As far as I’m concerned, “whatever”. I get about as excited as watching the Labor primaries as I do watching paint dry.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Richard Witty

      “I used to be mad at my school, the teachers who taught me weren’t cool. I’m changing my tune. Its getting better all the time, better, better, better.”

      Many husbands that love their wives and also yell at them callously, can learn that they care more than they are irritated.

      And some don’t.

      I learned to not argue harmfully with my wife, because I care more about her than I am angry with her.

      But, I’ve never learned to control my eating, even as I love my health more than I want sweets.

      Never give up, never surrender.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Amen, good points, Richard.

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    18. Thanks for your appreciation, Larry.
      And I can now understand your reluctance to ‘walk the walk’ as it were. In which case, perhaps you might care to think about become that unpaid consultant to Noam S.

      He doesn’t strike me a person who curses (a lot), nor does he appear rude. He is always clean-shaven in interviews and living in a tent for five years outside one of the main centres of power in Israel denotes patience of a high order. He speaks relatively softly and, as for punching inanimate objects, Benjamin Netanyahu et al might sometimes qualify for that description but comparisons there may be too unkind – to inanimate objects!

      That last remark was, perhaps, a bit harsh but I just couldn’t resist it.
      So, it does seem to me that you and Noam are a match made in Heaven. You each fill out the gaps in the other’s character, you complement one another perfectly. As for details like punctuality, telephone calls and fidgeting, I feel sure these flaws can be equally offset in the merging of two such dissimilar personas.

      In tandem, what a formidable force you two might become in the current Israeli political wilderness. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    19. You bet.

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    20. Charles Jerusalem

      I totally do not agree with the writer.
      Noam Shalit entered politics when he decided to abandon his usual life in order to devote his entire self to get his son free. On the way that last for several years he met political leaders, went into a number of actions so his son would not be forgotten and contributed to forge the image of Guilad Shalit.
      I met him several times in his tent in Jerusalem, he was a broken man, but he never gave up one minute.
      At the end when finally Gilad Shalit was given back to his family at a heavy price, he discovered in himself a specific fiber for politics.
      It does not choque me, he has a public image, he has the reputation to move montains in order to get things done, why not entering politic to reinforce the weakend ranks of the left and offer a good alternative to bibi and liberman.
      So I dont agree with your article, our country need new political leaders, if one was tuffly trained on the fieldwork for years and succeded, why not giving him a chance, he is for me a model, an example to follow.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Susannah

      Noam Schalit before Gilad’s release was perfectly fine, and did what most fathers [as Larry mentions] would have done, or would have liked to have done.

      But after? He reminds me of Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman, who was murdered by O.J. Simpson. Fred was there all during the trial, waiting for some sort of justice for his son.

      During this time, Fred Goldman was bitten by the fame bug. He’s been chasing it ever since, to ever diminishing results.

      If Noam Schalit wants to do some good in the world, he should start a project that helps people in some way, and carry it through. Then, if he wants to, he can run for the Knesset on the strength of what he has accomplshed, and not just on his well-known name.

      By running for the Knesset now, he gives the unfortunate impression that he is simply another Fred Goldman. And that is not good.

      Reply to Comment
    22. John Yorke

      However pristine, or not, may be the motivation behind Noam Shalit’s decision to run for a seat in the Knesset, it cannot be imagined that, after five years of strenuously trying to secure his son’s release, he remains totally unversed in the art of politics. Some of the skills involved must surely have rubbed off by now – and a lot may have stuck to him.

      Perhaps he’s figured out that, if one small and rather low-ranking captive can be traded successfully for 1027 prisoners, then it may be possible to raise a ransom whereby all those others held in a looser form of ‘captivity’ can gain some equal measure of freedom.

      Isn’t every Palestinian and Israeli a hostage to the situation in which they find themselves? And wouldn’t they welcome anything that could release them from a virtual life sentence in what must sometimes seem like a very dangerous and overcrowded jail?

      Of course, in terms of people transfer, the whole thing is a non-starter. At 1027:1, there’s nowhere near enough prisoners make up the numbers required. And the bureaucratic nightmare that would then ensue doesn’t even bear thinking about.

      But people are not the only medium of exchange. There is something else that has a value almost the equal of human beings. For some, it has been known to often exceed their value.


      I guess it really all comes down to how much love every father has for his son, each mother for her daughter; and vice-versa.
      And what, if any, is the limit of that love.

      Reply to Comment
    23. AYLA

      @Susannah–interesting and fair enough. I don’t have a TV, so I probably don’t realize the degree or nature of this man’s presence.

      Reply to Comment
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