A history lesson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deliberately stoking the hate-filled atmosphere pervading this country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
After my last article on these pages, one infuriated reader from Netanya wrote a letter to the editor in which she compared me to a kapo.
Quick history lesson: kapos were prisoners in Nazi concentration camps employed by the SS to keep order in the camps in return for privileges. They were often seen as behaving worse than the Germans in their treatment of fellow prisoners. In his famous book Night, Eli Wiesel writes hauntingly about the beatings he and his father received at the hands of a kapo called Idek. After the war, the term “kapo” became one of the most reviled names a Jew could call a fellow Jew.
So what, in the opinion of Yentel Jacobs from Netanya, makes me a kapo? Apparently, if I understand her correctly, just the fact that I hold left-wing views means I “support our enemies.” Then, seeking to analyze how I could possibly do this, she hypothesizes that left-wingers like myself perhaps think we “will get preferential treatment if the Arabs take over. That’s what the kapos in Germany thought. Enough said.”
But I’m not here to argue with Ms. Jacobs’ opinion of me, distasteful as it might be, nor question this paper’s slip in editorial judgment in publishing such a letter, filled as it was with incitement. I raise it because it perfectly exemplifies the hate-filled atmosphere pervading the country, deliberately created and stoked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In his rally last week, our prime minister methodically set out to divide and fracture the country he is meant to lead. His speech was devoted in its entirety to a fierce attack on the Left and the media (for in Netanyahu’s world, the two are one and the same), which he accused of acting to bring down the democratically elected government of Israel.
In an act of breathtaking cynicism, Netanyahu sought to divert attention from the crimes he and his wife are accused of personally committing, and claimed instead that the police investigations into the myriad alleged wrongdoings of the Netanyahu family are nothing less than a nefarious political plot to end the Likud’s term in power.
Where does one start to dismantle such ludicrous but dangerous nonsense? Well, let’s first off all remind everybody of the facts: Prime Minister Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This is not the invention of the left-wing press, but the wording of a court-issued gag order, which released for the first time the scale of the police’s suspicions against him. Separately, Sara Netanyahu has been repeatedly questioned by the National Fraud Unit over allegations she used public money for personal housekeeping expenses at the couple’s official and private residences.
No politics involved here, only – if the suspicions are proved correct – pure greed (except in the Case 2000 allegations, where Netanyahu is accused of trying to secure more favorable coverage from his major media enemy, Yediot Aharanot, in return for weakening Yediot’s main competitor, the right-wing Yisrael Hayom freesheet).
And who are leading these investigations against him? Die-hard leftists with a proven anti-Netanyahu agenda? Well, actually not. Both are Netanyahu appointees: Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who previously served as one of Netanyahu’s most trusted advisers in his role as cabinet secretary, and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, a former settler who once joked that his highest ambition as police chief was to provide security for the arrival of the Messiah.
A key prosecution witness in the case against Netanyahu is also someone far removed from any hint of harboring left-wing tendencies. Ari Harrow, who recently signed an agreement to turn state’s witness against the prime minister, was a member of Netanyahu’s tightest circle, serving twice as his chief of staff. With a resume including growing up on the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron after his family moved here from Los Angeles, and also heading the American Friends of the Likud for a number of years, Harrow is no Peace Now, anti-Netanyahu activist.
So it’s not the Left chasing Netanyahu, just the forces of law and order which are so vital in a democracy. And in a parliamentary democracy like Israel’s, when a prime minister has to stand down, his or her party carries on in power. Netanyahu’s pathetic claim to the crowd at last week’s rally that “they don’t just want to bring me down, they want to bring us all down, the Likud, the national camp” is the sound of a desperate demagogue beginning to fear for his own skin.
If Netanyahu is served with an indictment, however much he might protest, he will eventually have to step down, but guess what: the Likud government will continue to run perfectly well without him. And if the polls are to be believed, it might even do better at the next elections without him at its head.
There is no plot to bring down the prime minister, only the wheels of justice grinding exceedingly slow. But rather than sensibly spend his time seeking ways to bolster his defense, Netanyahu prefers to create imaginary enemies, at the cost of sowing discord and rearing up hatred against many of the country’s citizens he is meant to serve.
Oh, and another history lesson: the only prime minister in Israel’s history brought down outside of elections was Yitzhak Rabin, killed by a right-wing extremist, in an era marked by the same kind of Netanyahu-fueled incitement that we are seeing again today.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.