Think About It: Has hatred for Netanyahu gone out of control?

From the start, I did not like his neoliberal ideology, and noticed his flimsiness with and manipulation of historical facts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 30, 2018 (photo credit: TANIA REGO/COURTESY OF AGENCIA BRASIL/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 30, 2018
The other day I asked a friend, who is a staunch right-winger, what he thought of Netanyahu’s “dramatic announcement” at 8 p.m. last Monday. My friend did not answer the question, but went into a harangue about the fact that the Left hates Bibi beyond any reasonable proportions, and that the Right never hated any left-wing leader as much (apparently Rabin was assassinated out of sheer love).
Next, my friend added that he is not happy about Bibi’s stinginess and his attacks on the rule of law, but that he is by far the best prime minister that Israel has ever had, and at the moment there is no one – neither on the Right nor on the Left – who can replace him.
Finally, he hurled at me what he always hurls at me when we get into arguments: “But you never had it so good,” to which I invariably answer: “My life isn’t bad, because I was fortunate to be born into a comfortable middle-class family, and spent my life living frugally, and well within my means. I lived well before Netanyahu and shall live well after him – unless he manages to cause absolute political, social and economic havoc before he steps down.”
On Thursday, Gideon Levy, probably the most hated left-wing journalist in Israel today, had an opinion piece in Haaretz under the title “Bibiphobia,” in which he argued that the hatred for Netanyahu in the Left has long gone out of proportion, and has reached the dimensions of a lynch, which has made even the likes of himself – certainly no Netanyahu fan – feel uncomfortable.
I cannot answer for the whole Left. In fact, I can speak only for myself, and I admit that this question does pop up in my mind from time to time. However, unlike Levy, the only thing I feel uncomfortable about is the fact that Netanyahu is likely to be reelected in the coming elections, and soon thereafter be put on trial, and be found guilty on several counts. Only he can save us all from this embarrassing scenario.
I PERSONALLY do not hate Netanyahu. I think the most accurate word to describe my feelings is “despise.” It is a feeling that has developed slowly, over 30 years, since the first time I heard him speak during the 1988 election campaign. In those elections Netanyahu participated as a first-time candidate on behalf of the Likud – the protégé of Moshe Arens, who died just over a week ago, and was a model of a truly liberal, majestic Revisionist gentleman – a brand that has become almost extinct in the current-day Likud. Netanyahu was never part of that brand.
Back in 1988, one couldn’t but be impressed by Netanyahu’s countenance and energy, or ignore his fabulous oratorical abilities, which he had nurtured during his long sojourn in the United States.
From the start, I did not like his neoliberal ideology, and noticed his flimsiness with and manipulation of historical facts. However, he was as yet not tried in politics, did not yet view himself as the cat’s whiskers (or at least did not show it), had not yet publicly demonstrated his stinginess and adulation for billionaires, and was more of a riddle than the figure that ignites instinctive admiration or antagonism in people.
Over the years, my feelings toward Netanyahu went completely sour, to which he contributed through his personal and political conduct, things he said, and his tendency to place his own political survival before any other consideration. He views the likes of me as sourpusses, and though he claims to be the leader of the whole of the Jewish people, I find it increasingly difficult to view him as my leader – in any sense of the word.
Nevertheless, every once in a while, when I have been pleased with something Netanyahu has said or done, I feel a rush of sympathy for him, as when he reached an agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements regarding a place of prayer for those who do not accept the Orthodox traditions and practices, or the agreement he reached with the UN Refugee Agency with regard to the African asylum-seekers. But lo and behold, whenever this happened, Netanyahu soon retracted, due to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox or his political base. The likes of me simply do not count.
Despite all of this, I certainly wouldn’t say that Netanyahu is the worst prime minister Israel ever had. But neither is he the best of them. In terms of achievements, I would say that David Ben-Gurion was by far the best. Most of the credit for the establishment of the State of Israel is certainly due to him. Menachem Begin (in his first term) and Yitzhak Rabin (in his second term) were also much more impressive in their achievements, whether or not one agrees with all their goals.
I would say that Netanyahu was an excellent finance minister (in Ariel Sharon’s second government), and as prime minister has given an impressive performance in terms of foreign policy fanfare – much less so in terms of actual achievements. Netanyahu was undoubtedly largely responsible for President Donald Trump leaving the nuclear agreement with Iran, but he hasn’t managed to stop Iran’s movement toward nuclear capability, or to get it out of Syria. He managed to get Trump to move the US Embassy to west Jerusalem, but hasn’t gotten anyone to recognize Israel’s sovereignty in east Jerusalem. He has befriended regimes that have faulty records in the sphere of democracy, but hasn’t demonstrated what long-term benefit Israel will derive from these relationships. At the same time, he has distanced Israel from many Western democracies, as well as the Democratic Party in the US. But all these are a basis to criticize Netanyahu – not to despise him.
What gives rise to the latter is his incitement against and delegitimization of left-wingers as such (“the Left has forgotten what it is to be Jewish”), against human rights activists and supporters, against all the law enforcement agencies involved in his investigations, and against Israel’s Arab citizens at large; his refusal to view his role as prime minister as primus inter pares (first among equals), and the ambition of persons in other political parties and his own party to replace him as perfectly legitimate and part of the democratic game; and his refusal to contend with the media rather than try to manipulate it, which is what he did last Monday, with his scandalous announcement.
I admit that in my own case there are also some basic personal norms involved. I was raised in a home where economic independence and living within one’s means were considered basic moral values, and where one was discouraged from taking advantage of public funding unless one is in real need. With regards to wealthy friends and acquaintances, one was discouraged from taking expensive gifts that one could not afford to buy for oneself. That was why, from a normative perspective, Case 1000 and the case against Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, which allegedly unlike Cases 2000 and 4000 do not involve bribery, are the most disturbing to me. Does all of this amount to exaggerated sentiments against Netanyahu? I do not believe so. But as I said above, I can speak only for myself.
As to Netanyahu’s complaint last Monday that he was not enabled to confront his former colleagues who turned state’s witness against him: If and when he is put on trial, he and his attorneys will certainly have the chance to do so. It is a basic right.