Israeli politics are as bizarre as a surrealistic painting - analysis

What Israel witnessed on Monday was the equivalent of an ant crawling across a watch on one of Salvador Dali’s canvases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen entering the courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court for his hearing. (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen entering the courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court for his hearing.
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
 Were a committee tasked with deciding which of history’s greatest artists would best be able to depict what happened in Jerusalem on Monday, Salvador Dali would certainly have to be a leading candidate.
Not the realist Gustave Courbet, nor the romantic Francisco Goya, and definitely not the idealist Michelangelo. But rather Dali, surrealism’s giant.
Why Dali? Because he is the master of painting things out of place: a melting watch on a barren tree, a hand emerging from a man’s forehead, flying tigers. That is one of the defining characteristics of the surrealist movement: the representation of items not normally connected.
And what could be more out of place, more incongruous, more not normally connected than on the one hand, the state of Israel prosecuting a sitting prime minister, and on the other hand, at the exact same time, deliberating whether to extend his term in office and allow him to try and form yet another government.
What Israel witnessed on Monday – the beginning of testimony against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Jerusalem District Court, while at the same time various parties were testifying before President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu should be tasked with forming the next government and standing at its head – was the equivalent of an ant crawling across a watch on one of Dali’s canvases.
Of all history’s great artists, Dali would have done the most justice to Monday’s events in Jerusalem, because the images the nation watched on one split television screen did not seem to fit logically or flow one from the other as one might have expected.
Yet here we are: Israeli politics as a surrealistic painting.
Netanyahu is not the first public figure to go on trial in Israel in recent memory.
Within the space of just over a decade, Israel followed with bated breath the trials of former president Moshe Katsav, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former chief rabbi Yona Metzger – all of whom ended up going to prison. It is nothing new for this country to see its most celebrated figures as defendants in court.
But “former” is the operative word in the cases involving Katsav, Olmert and Metzger. They were all “former” officials of the highest rank, well out of office when their trials began.
In Netanyahu’s case, however, not only is he still in office, but at the same time that former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua began to testify against the prime minister, Rivlin was hearing arguments from various parties as to why Netanyahu should be tasked yet again with forming a government, ensuring that he will remain in office.
When Katsav, Olmert and Metzger showed up in court, it was clear that their public careers were behind them. Not so for Netanyahu.
This is one reason why in addition to the adjectives “sad” and “proud” that were routinely trotted out in the past to describe the day when one of the country leaders appeared in court – “sad” because a leader of the country was accused of a crime; “proud” because it showed that in Israel’s democracy no one was above the law – this time, another adjective can be thrown into the mix: bizarre.
Bizarre because the defendant is not only still prime minister, but the country has not turned him out of office over the last four elections even though it knew very well what the charges against him were. Bizarre because he may very well continue in that position. This either reveals a nation enthralled by its leader or one that does not trust its judicial system. Or both.
One of the most striking features of Yeshua’s testimony against Netanyahu was the degree to which the actors being discussed are still very much central players in this country’s political dramas and all are interconnected and interacting with one another.
Yeshua testified that in 2013 he received instructions from the Netanyahu family to run stories critical of Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked, then the leaders of the Bayit Yehudi Party, in order to smear them and their families and bring them down a peg prior to that year’s elections.
That, of course, would be the same Bennett and Shaked, now the leaders of the Yamina Party, which Netanyahu is currently courting furiously so that he can form a government and – maybe, just maybe – avert a continuation of his trial.
That is more ironic than surrealistic, though, in all great works of surrealism, there is often more than just a touch of irony.