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On Shlemazels and Fools

By Michael Freund
1/2/2005, 12:00 AM

It was “a rally of shlemazels”, said Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, using the unflattering Yiddish word to describe Sunday night’s massive anti-withdrawal protest at the Knesset. “There was no enthusiastic spirit,” he said.

Rally The fact that some 200,000 Israelis of all ages, backgrounds and colors had gathered peacefully to protest the government’s policy in one of the largest demonstrations in the country’s history – well, that seems to have been lost on Mr. Peres, who preferred to engage in childish name-calling.

Literally, the word “shlemazel” means a person with bad luck – it is an amalgamation of the words shlim (meaning “bad”) and mazel (meaning “luck”). But beyond its literal definition, it is used primarily to denigrate, to mock and to scorn.

It seems to me that the only “bad luck” the protesters really have is that their Government – as exemplified by Mr. Peres himself – takes no heed of the people’s will. Indeed, the primary demand voiced by the protesters was to hold a national referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, and what could possibly be more democratic than that?

But Sharon, Peres & Co. have no time for such things, preferring instead to believe that they, and only they, know what is good for the country – and who cares what anyone else might think.

And that is precisely one of the fundamental problems with Israel’s current political system – an unwillingness to listen, to hear, to contemplate and to consult. I guess it is just easier to label your opponents a bunch of “shlemazels” than to contend with the questions that they raise.

In any other country, of course, Mr. Peres would be forced to apologize, if not resign, for speaking so derisively about an entire segment of the public. That, of course, is unlikely to occur.

At the very least, though, since he seems to be fond of the Yiddish language, I hope the next time Mr. Peres considers insulting the public, he will bear in mind the old Yiddish saying: “A fool who can keep silent is counted among the wise”.