During his speech at the Democratic convention, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, noted a phenomenon that goes beyond the routine political differences of opinion. He spoke about the current "Republican narrative" in which the mechanisms of stirring up hatred, opposition, and loathing have the upper hand, rather than any positive vision. As he put it: "When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world.
The real world, he said, is longing for cooperation, for concentrating on finding solutions and utilizing opportunities, and there is no need to fight all the time.
Does this sound familiar? Not surprising, because that same "conflict mentality" and stirring up of arguments has a big following here in Israel. An almost official auxiliary of the extreme right of America's Republican Party embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his bureau and the media tools he has concentrated in his hands. Nevertheless, an Israeli version of that same mentality, but with unique characteristics of its own, has crystallized here: Bibi-ism.
Only a few leaders have enjoyed the privilege of having their name turned into a concept: Peronism, Gaullism, Stalinism, Thatcherism, Reaganism. Even though the roots lie in a specific dominant leader, these concepts are characterized by the fact that they have a separate existence of their own that survives after the leaders, to their glory or their shame. Even when the Argentine president was still alive, there were people who spoke about "Peronism without [Juan] Peron," and there were also Gaullists after the death of the French president, Charles de Gaulle. That is because they refer to clear and consistent ideological lines or at least to a concrete heritage.
Not so Bibi-ism. Bibi-ism is a state of mind and a spirit of the times that are dictating the tone in Israel with ever-increasing force, and which are dictated by the leader who concentrates more and more authority in his hands while nurturing a media personality cult.
Many people hang onto him by default, out of exhaustion from politics itself. How did they put it, those willing slaves from the Likud, those Knesset members who expressed "unhesitating support," before and after, "for any decision taken" by Netanyahu? All those who doubt his judgment are "political operators with political ambitions." Only Netanyahu acts out of pure motives that cannot be questioned: He is that he is.
On the face of it, Bibi-ism is nothing but the embodiment of the "right" - both with regard to the Palestinians and the territories, and to the economy. But at the same time, it is difficult to point up the substance of this concept in regular political and ideological terms. Since it is the sum of the vicissitudes of survival, the stumbling blocks and the zigzags of one man, it would be hard for supporters of a Greater Land of Israel and supporters of withdrawals, as well as supporters of a free market and supporters of economic regulation, to swear by his name for a sustained length of time. At the same time, though, there is one hard, salient core to Bibi-ism that is more consistent than any right-left dichotomy - combativeness.
In a kind of extension of the personality at its center, Bibi-ism is the opponent on principle, the one who perpetually locks horns, the flag-bearer of "the politics of permanent conflict." He will never miss a good dispute whether internal or external, but he will always miss every opportunity for reconciliation and cooperation. In Bibi-ism there is only "No" and a search for defects, an almost hedonistic wallowing in a sea of smears and counter-smears, of hurling accusations and sloughing off responsibility, and a constant stirring up of fear and contention. It is no surprise that he is attractive to so many Israelis: Who will not rush over to watch people "slug it out"? Boring it is not. But how long?
Bibi-ism cannot be separated from Bibi and it will not survive after he goes. On the eve of the new year, the most we can wish for, the most that can be wished for us, is to see the day Bibi is separated from Bibi-ism (but then it would no longer be him).
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