A strange law of politics defies logic. As corruption charges mount, the victims should grow louder in their indignation and the accused should grow quieter in their shame. Yet as corruption charges mount, the accused grows louder in his indignation – and we, the public, the victims, go quiet. It’s a beaten, demoralized silence: betrayed by our leaders, we cringe quietly as they sacrifice the public good to satisfy their ego needs.
Welcome to Bibiland. Predictably, we’re enduring the latest act in this low-class, too-long-running, soap opera – which should have been canceled ages ago. The latest police charges, which triggered the usual prime-ministerial pushback, followed the all-too-familiar script. Underlying much of Netanyahu’s fury against his accusers, as he rallies loyalists, is this outrage that the charges against him are so petty.
“How dare the police come after someone so great for crimes so low?” he and they implicitly ask. I wonder: “How dare a prince of the Jewish people who has done so much good, who could be so great, act so low?”
Benjamin Netanyahu is not a master crook – just a petty cheat. That’s what’s so frustrating about these charges of too many cigars, too much champagne, too many catered dinners, and too much heavy-handed favor-banking – for what, some loose change and more adoring headlines?
He doesn’t deserve better treatment – we do! Israel deserves a better leader – someone above treating the Communications Ministry like a brothel where something as profound as the democratic dialogue about who we are and who we can be is peddled to the highest bidders.
In Bibiland, everyone talks about security, but it’s a fig leaf shrouding his own insecurity – even as he risks the state’s security, making politics all about him not all about us. How can someone so focused on protecting his own reputation now protect the state properly?
Netanyahu has been prime minister long enough that if the police were as corrupt as he claims, he should have reformed them – for everyone’s sake. He knows democracy well enough to understand that national security relies on internal security. A state wracked by institutional civil war, with the prime minister mocking the police, sags from within, even while standing up to its enemies from without. Polls estimate that 47% of Israelis believe the country’s leadership is corrupt: that statistic, boosted by Bibiland’s pennyante Machiavellian plots, mocks Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Zionist calls for Hadar, for every New Jew to epitomize “honesty, courtesy, esteem.”
In Bibiland, I guess we did need a Nation-State Law to protect our Jewish values – because our prime minister didn’t bother protecting them.
In Bibiland, the prime-minister-for-life-and-defense-minister-now-too can do no wrong, but no one around him can do anything right, either. The critical and the competent must be crushed – each might threaten the prime-minister-for-life-and-defense-minister-now-too’s lifetime self-appointment. In Bibiland, we reverse the democratic cliché that no one’s above the law – one person reduces the law to his plaything.
“If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle,” the scientist Carl Sagan warned. “We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”
In Bibiland, you keep the con going. Just as nurses rely on menthol chapstick to counteract stinky patients, Bi-bilievers tick off the prime minister’s admittedly impressive accomplishments – but they’re starting to wear off.
When bombarded by bad smells, our receptors shut down, exhausted. That “olfactory adaptation” aka “getting used to it” – is kicking in, as the pollution in Bibiland overpowers. Supporters plunge in, bathing in his most putrid rabble-rousing – neutralizing the stench emanating from his corruption – or from his collegial competitors in the corruption game (see Deri, Arye). And that’s why, we the victims, are struck dumb, as the sinners’ shout louder and louder.
I take no joy in writing these words. Netanyahu has defended Israel valiantly for decades. I applaud his foreign policy accomplishments, from broadening Israel’s global alliances to resisting Iran to responding maturely to many nerve-wracking attacks. That’s why I proposed in August, 2017, that he resign, with a pardon from President Reuven Rivlin for himself and his wife. Israel must “be spared a lengthy, bloody political battle that will trash his reputation – and rock Israel’s justice system,” I wrote.
I still want Netanyahu resigning with a deal and whatever credibility remains. Let him make the money he apparently so desperately needs lecturing, while advising his successors on defense matters.
But this spectacle, with the prime minister bashing the police he hired to protect us, with him exposed as arranging elaborate deals to pay off media moguls we trusted to report to us, demeans everyone.
Netanyahu’s hero, Winston Churchill, wondered, “What’s the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” I salute Netanyahu for protecting our bodies – but curse him for curdling our souls. Israel’s prime minister should embody the nobility of Zionism, the purity of Israeli democracy. On those counts, he failed miserably.
I regret devoting my Hanukkah column to Bibiland’s smoggy horizons. I intended to write an essay challenging each of us, beyond simply lighting candles and eating jelly doughnuts, to engage, discuss, or uphold the Zionist, nationalist, ethical, spiritual, or Jewish values Hanukkah represents.
I guess I just did.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” the writer is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.
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