The ultimatum that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave visiting German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel over the German’s plans to meet with Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem involves an amazing equation that Netanyahu himself created. He told Gabriel that it’s “either me or them” that he wouldn’t meet with Gabriel if the minister met with the two rights groups on his visit to Israel.
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In the process, Netanyahu was suggesting that the two groups, which have a staff of a few dozen, are equal to him in importance. After all, if they weren’t so important, they wouldn’t have been taken into consideration by the prime minister.
The simple explanation behind Netanyahu’s exaggerated response, of course, is the rhetoric common to all gutter nationalists flourishing in Israel and around the world – wild incitement against anyone criticizing the government (or more precisely its policy or even parts of it). These critics are singled out as traitors and enemies of the people. Such rhetoric also supports the prime minister’s repeated criticism of the international community in his speeches.
Netanyahu suggests that there’s a close connection between a hypocritical world that forsook the Jews during the Holocaust and is forsaking Syria’s children now, and Israel’s domestic traitors – who provide the world with ammunition to criticize Israel.
But beyond the obvious, if one takes the comparison further, there’s something more significant to discover, an ideological microcosm of sorts. Netanyahu, who’s widely thought to be bent on staying in power, is also an ideologue. The choice that the world and above all Israelis have to make is simple. It’s between maintaining control of the territories, probably through an apartheid regime, or accepting an Israel in its 1967 borders.
The first option is the prime minister’s vision, which via falsehoods in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech supporting a two-state solution simply moved opposition to the occupation beyond the pale even if it didn’t put it beyond the law.
The second option is opposition to the occupation, part of a vision of a faction including not only intellectuals but also military experts, advocates of the rule of law and many people beyond the settlement lobby. Unfortunately, the prospect of a country free of the occupation and settlements that might garner some support, even among Israelis voting for Netanyahu’s Likud party, are represented by two small groups perceived by most Israelis as mysteriously esoteric in the best case. In the worst, they’re a demonic punching bag, as it were.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid made a comical statement: “Netanyahu doesn’t need to cancel his meeting with the German minister but he’s absolutely right!” And opposition leader Isaac Herzog complained about the “damage to Israel’s foreign relations” while avoiding B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence demonstrating the political center’s contribution in destroying Israeli democracy.
Not identifying with these groups’ simple essence – opposition to the occupation – turns the opposition into a meaningless Rorschach inkblot. With its five Knesset seats, the Meretz party remains alone on the ramparts in the Zionist battle against the occupation.
Consciously or not, Netanyahu is pushing toward a decisive outcome. Gabriel has already made his choice. Why aren’t others being required, without beating around the bush, to make a decision?