An acquaintance recently admonished me for being unreservedly anti-Netanyahu. Given the fact that many of my friends and acquaintances are right-wingers and/or Orthodox religious, this in itself was not an exceptional experience.
What was surprising about it was that this acquaintance is a left-wing, feminist academic, who was born in Morocco, and is a supporter of the radical Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow.
Furthermore, in all the recent elections she voted for the United Arab List “not because I support their positions, but because they are underdogs in this country,” she explained, adding: “Don’t get me wrong; I cannot stand Netanyahu. However, I don’t think he is any worse than all the other Israeli politicians, and he also deserves credit for some positive things he has done over the years.”
Specifically, what she accused me of was that I was allegedly blindly following the anti-Bibi line of the old Ashkenazi elites, and mainstream media.
I protested, telling her that my views on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were formulated independently of the mainstream media. I have been following Netanyahu closely since he entered the Israeli political scene in 1988, and especially since his reelection in 2009 I have been emphatic about regularly listening to alternative points of view in the electronic media, including Channel 20 and the programs on Channel 11 hosted by radical Mizrahi, ultra-Orthodox and right-wing presenters.
I was fascinated with Netanyahu when he first ran in the 1988 elections – especially with his brilliant rhetoric and clear presentations, though I objected to the Likud ideology and Netanyahu’s neoliberal version of it.
However, already in the 1988 I discovered his flimsy use of history. In the 1990s, after Netanyahu replaced Yitzhak Shamir as leader of the Likud, we discovered a man who never carries a wallet and does not own a credit card; who wantonly attacked prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for the Oslo Accords, without taking into account the effect this might have in extreme right-wing circles; who sought the company and profitable friendships of wealthy men irrespective of where and how they made their billions; who is easily manipulated by means of emotional pressure by his wife; and who is not averse to using public funds to pay for his family’s private expenses.
However, at that time Netanyahu was still an avid supporter of the rule of law, and of the principle that prime ministers should hold office for only two terms. He was still tolerable.
After being ousted from the premiership by Ehud Barak in 1999, Netanyahu returned to power in 2009.
Until 2015 he still acted as a pluralistic prime minister, establishing political partnerships with parties from most sections of the political spectrum. The government he formed in 2015 was his first purely right-wing-religious government.
A succession of investigations were opened against him in 2016, on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and ended with three indictments on January 28, 2020. His trial opened on May 23, 2020.
IT IS this last sequence of events that is relevant to the full-scale battle between Netanyahu on the one side and the evolving “just not Bibi” camp on the other.
Netanyahu started to move from a “there will be nothing because there was nothing” position, to a full-scale, unbridled and irresponsible attack against all the law enforcement agencies: the State Attorney’s Office, the police and the judiciary, which he accuses of fabricating the cases against him, in an undemocratic effort – according to him – to depose a strong right-wing leader.
As the whole affair developed, Netanyahu also marked the mainstream media, and the “Left,” as enemies, out to get him.
The battle has been accompanied by a lot of manipulative fake news on his part, barely any concrete evidence to corroborate his accusations (which doesn’t stop many from believing him), and a growing number of embarrassing events, such as a scandalous speech against the State Attorney’s Office inside the court house just before the charge sheet was read out on the day the trial opened, and an even more despicable speech just after the first day of evidence in court took place on April 5, 2021.
Simultaneously with these events, from 2015 onward Netanyahu started to demonstrate a highly autocratic style of government, made a growing number of promises to his political colleagues that he broke, humiliated those who demonstrated opposition to his actions, and systematically cleared the political scene of any potential political rivals to his rule from within the Likud.
All this was followed, in 2019-2021, by four consecutive inconclusive elections, which Netanyahu did not win, despite his playing every dirty trick in the game to gain the support of 61 MKs.
Despite all of this, there is still a significant minority that views Netanyahu as the greatest, who deserves to continue to govern for as long as he physically can, without any constraints.
There is another significant group of right-wing religious politicians who continue to support Netanyahu, even though they are increasingly disturbed by at least some of the developments described above, though some of them are inclined to accept Netanyahu’s conspiracy theory.
A third group of right-wing and religious politicians have decided to formally break away from the pro-Netanyahu camp and, if Netanyahu will fail to form a new government in the next three weeks, will join the center and left-wing parties to try to form an alternative, healing government.
BUT BACK to the beginning. I do not believe that my attitude toward Netanyahu has been unduly influenced by that of “the old Ashkenazi elites.” It is based by the values I was raised on.
Every once in a while, I have asked myself whether I was being unfair or dishonest in my attitude.
On occasion I have been pleased by certain moves taken by Netanyahu. For example, I was delighted when he announced the agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements to arrange for a place of prayers separate from the Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall. But within days he gave in to pressure from the Orthodox, and scrapped his promise.
Again, I was delighted when he announced that he had reached an agreement with the UN about solving the problem of 32,000 African asylum-seekers who reside in Israel, under which Israel would settle the status of half of them in Israel, and the UN would find homes in Europe for the rest. Again, within several days Netanyahu reversed his position because of political pressure from Jewish extremists from the neighborhoods where most of the Africans reside. This pattern keeps repeating itself again and again.
Yes, there are peace treaties with several Gulf states. And yes, there are the vaccinations. Thank you, Bibi, for those.
Many commentators from the Right suggest that the refusal to sit in a government led by Netanyahu is all about petty politics.
No, it is not. It is about principles. It is about hope. It is about telling the man, who chose the opening ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day to brag, once again, about his successful purchase of COVID-19 vaccines: “unlike the Holocaust – this time we [i.e., I] identified the danger in time”: Enough is enough.The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to appear in English.