They're playing that old tune again: Anybody but Benjamin ("they're-afffraid") Netanyahu. Shaul Mofaz loves peace, Tzipi Livni will end the occupation, Ehud Barak will treat the Palestinians like human beings. Only Netanyahu will bring disaster. Once again, the political fashion is to discuss how to stop the king of the opinion polls and the prince of disaster.
The Likud chairman's demonization by the Anti-Netanyahu Defense League is not new. It has one goal: presenting all the other candidates as better, because they are so different from the devil Netanyahu. It is an old, tried-and-true method in Israeli discourse: For example, we will fight the "illegal outposts," thus koshering all the other, meticulously "legal" settlements. Just as there is no difference between Ariel and Asael - both are patently illegal - there is no real difference between Netanyahu and all the other candidates. None is a harbinger of peace or the end of the occupation, but only Netanyahu is painted in frightening hues, thus rendering the others kosher.
Netanyahu, the man of our nightmares, met with Yasser Arafat, signed the Hebron agreement and did not bring peace. The prime ministers who succeeded him - Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert - did not lead Israel even one step closer to peace. Netanyahu did open the Western Wall Tunnel, a fiasco that ended with dozens killed. And who was his partner in that move? Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem, who has never been as horrifying as Netanyahu. True, Olmert's rhetoric as prime minister was much more pleasant to peace-loving ears than Netanyahu's; he conducted negotiations, he was hospitable to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and he even sent emissaries to Turkey to conduct talks with Syria. But what did we get out of all that? More settlements, and more brutal occupation. Netanyahu, at least, did not set off on a useless, foolish war.
The point of these arguments is not to praise Netanyahu. According to his declared ideology, he supports a one-state solution, an eternal apartheid state. But how the devil is he different from the others? Mofaz, for example, should frighten us much more: His hands have a great deal more blood on them than this scary Netanyahu has. While Netanyahu dispatched a representative to the Sryian president and sent out feelers about an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, Mofaz pledges "peace for peace," insults our intelligence, and actually promises another war in the north. The father of assassinations, he turned the Israel Defense Forces into a vengeful gang in the occupied territories. In any proper country Mofaz would have long ago been delegitimized because of his responsibility for what are considered war crimes elsewhere in the world. If he is elected prime minister, he will not be able to visit certain countries for fear of being arrested. Neither has anyone settled accounts with him over his part in the IDF's unpreparedness for the last war. But even Mofaz is not as frightening as Netanyahu.
Barak's current term as defense minister does not give us reason to fear him any less than Netanyahu: This was a period of disproportionate and unbridled killing in Gaza. This is the man who invented the false no-partner theory and smashed the remnants of the Israeli peace camp. And now he is even going back to using that rusty and criminal weapon - demolishing terrorists' homes - in the name of the Israeli labor and peace movement. Can everyone who was shocked by Netanyahu's cruel capitalism depend on Barak? Has anyone ever caught this social democrat improving the welfare of anyone who was not his neighbor in a luxury high-rise? And yet, even he is not as frightening as Netanyahu.
And what about Livni? She is certainly not as fearsome as Netanyahu. But she, too, thinks that talks with Syria and the Palestinians are moving too fast. After 40 years of occupation and bloodshed, Olmert's turtle-like pace is too fast for his "moderate" foreign minister.
That is the choice. That is the arsenal of candidates seeking to succeed Olmert. None speak in the name of any ideology whatsoever. A past prime minister who failed at his post and brought about the second intifada; a former chief of staff and defense minister, a cruel military man, who fanned the flames and knows only how to sow destruction and death; a mild-mannered foreign minister who has not advanced peace in any way; and Netanyahu - the person everyone loves to hate. No worse than his fellow candidates, but immeasurably more persecuted. The media embraces Livni, accepts Mofaz as legitimate, sometimes supports Barak, but is terrified only by Netanyahu. Why?
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