The cost of Netanyahu

The Right's use of fear is manipulative.

Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has very real reasons to be afraid. But the Binyamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman politics of fear that is supposed to justify occupation of the West Bank has catastrophic consequences, and the world no longer wants to listen to the cries, "The wolf, the wolf." Here is how the dynamics work: Israel's critics often say that it is making manipulative use of exaggerated fears. They argue that, after all it has one of the world's strongest armies, that it is generally known to be a nuclear power. Hence its constant harping on being under existential threat is just a way of coaxing the US not to apply too much pressure against settlement activities and to keep the world on its toes regarding the Iranian threat. The country's defenders argue that the dangers are all too real. Hasn't the constant barrage of Kassams on Sderot proven that if Israel leaves the West Bank, it will just be a matter of time until some terrorist shoots down a plane headed for Ben-Gurion Airport? What if Hamas takes over the West Bank and becomes another Hizbullah? The whole country would be within reach of its rockets. In addition, Israel would become the target of vicious criticism if it were to defend itself against such attacks because, of course, there would be casualties. And then there is the threat of a nuclear Iran. Why should we not take it seriously if Iran's president keeps saying Israel should be erased, particularly now, when it is clear that he has the clerical rulers' full support? The critics who simply disqualify these fears are making a big mistake, assuming that they want to be politically constructive and not just ventilate anger. There is no clear-cut argument that invalidates the claim that Israel would indeed be within the range of rockets if a Palestinian state were founded. Nor can anybody feel very comfortable with a nuclear Iran that continues the rhetoric of Holocaust denial and threats to wipe us out. The dreams of Peace Now unfortunately belong to the past; peace offers will not be met by all our neighbors with roses. The level of hatred in our area is such that saying that we are under no security risk requires a fair amount of bad faith. MOVING AHEAD toward peace indeed requires taking risks. The point is that none of these risks entails the continuation of the occupation of most of the West Bank and the Right's use of fear is indeed manipulative. There are several questions on which you can never get an answer from the right wing: How on earth are settlements scattered in the West Bank supposed to increase security? And how exactly is holding on to the West Bank supposed to protect us from a nuclear Iran? And most of all, how exactly do they envisage a future in which we continue to occupy the West Bank without establishing an apartheid regime de facto? Nobody has ever received coherent answers to these questions. The Right's latest rhetorical ploy is that since the conflict cannot be solved, it needs to be "managed" until further notice, presumably sometime in the 22nd century. The Right's unforgivable sin is a ploy the George W. Bush administration made use of for years. By fanning fears, it made use of its citizens' ignorance of the Middle East to create imaginary connections like those between Iraq and al-Qaida; by fabricating evidence for weapons of mass destruction where none existed, as Ron Suskind has shown in detail, it galvanized public opinion to support its policies. The result was catastrophic: According to most estimates, the US is less safe now than it was eight years ago, and its standing in the world has been greatly harmed. The Right's policies are leading to the same result. The refusal to engage Fatah led to the rise of Hamas, and the refusal to engage with Hamas will open the door to al-Qaida, and security will decrease in the long run. Furthermore, Israel's standing is plummeting. As Netanyahu has found out during his visit in the US, his fiery speeches on the possibility that 4,000 years of Jewish history will come to an end because of Iran do not impress anybody anymore. Netanyahu's and Lieberman's rhetoric will lead to the point where the world will no longer want to listen to our justified fears, because they make unjustifiable use of them. Both keep harping on the theme that Israel is the West's outpost in a Middle East threatened by radical Islam. I am not optimistic about their changing their rhetoric, because their political identity is built upon it. But if they were to realize how counterproductive their line is, they might generate more understanding rather than distrust for our legitimate fears. The writer, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, teaches at the psychology department of Tel Aviv University and is a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.