Israel needs to remove the Netanyahu fault line - comment

Benjamin Netanyahu is what divides Israel. At times in recent years, the division among Israelis seemed irreparable and impossible to bridge.

Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Dozens of times over the last few years, we at The Jerusalem Post bemoaned the division in Israel. We called on our elected officials to change their rhetoric, to remember that the public was watching and to respectfully engage with one another.

We urged politicians to remember that despite the four elections that we went through in the span of two years, there was ultimately a country that needed to be managed and led. We pleaded with the government to pass a budget, we urged certain politicians to refrain from undermining the judicial system, and we beseeched ministers to remember that they worked for the people, not the other way around.

At times in recent years, the division among Israelis seemed irreparable and impossible to bridge. One part of the country claimed that Benjamin Netanyahu had been set up, was innocent and needed to remain in power. The other part claimed that he was corrupt, dangerous and needed to step down.

This became the fault line for Israel: whether Netanyahu needed to go or stay. The division wasn’t over something ideological like peace with the Palestinians, economic policy or matters of religion and state. It was about an individual and whether he should remain in power or leave.

That was what four elections were about, regardless of whether you agreed with the anti-Netanyahu camp. They wanted him removed from office and refused to sit with him. That was it.

 Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court on November 16. (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB) Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court on November 16. (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

The same can be said about the pro-Netanyahu camp. They refused to see the damage that was being caused by his staying in office. They preferred to stand behind someone indicted and on trial, no matter what. And no one was going to tell them differently.

This was not an ideological issue but one of personality; not about a set of ideological principles that Netanyahu and his supporters stood for, in contrast to one of his adversaries like Naftali Bennett or Gideon Sa’ar. Try to find any ideological difference – it is nigh on impossible. And if you do find one, it will usually place Netanyahu to the left of the other two.

This is in contrast to the United States. There, it seems, the divide is more ideologically driven and more issue-focused. Do people have the right to bear arms or not? Should women be able to get an abortion or not? Was the election in November 2020 rigged or not?

There is, of course, personality politics also at play (especially surrounding Donald Trump), but the ideological division is deliberate and at times extreme.

In Israel, those differences don’t really exist. Yes, Meretz and the Religious Zionist parties don’t agree on the right way to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. But both sides know that there is no real chance right now for either a two-state solution or the annexation of the West Bank.

When it comes to the economy, there are people in Israel who believe in more government intervention and others who want less, but there is no real threat to the capitalist policies of all consecutive governments in recent decades.

So what does divide Israel? Netanyahu.

Does that mean his departure will solve the country’s problems? No. It will not do that on its own.

But it will be the first step in a much-needed healing process that will enable Israel to move on and no longer be stuck along a fault line that – after seven months of being led by another prime minister – will just continue to divide and damage the country.