Analysis

Netanyahu's Israel Has Lost Any Shred of Shame

Netanyahu devoted his political career to eroding Israel's democratic compass, but its democracy that will cause the prime minister's downfall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a corner stone ceremony for a new neighborhood in the Beitar Illit settlement, the largest of the West Bank, on August 3, 2017.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

What, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is talking about a change of government by undemocratic means? This is the man who first came to power after he orchestrated a campaign of incitement, which reached its height with the assassination of the prime minister, and who on the most recent Election Day warned – while still prime minister – of about 20 percent of the population exercising their right to vote. In Netanyahu’s Israel, shame knows no boundaries.

Under the supervision of the people Netanyahu appointed – from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich – the police and the prosecution have collected evidence allegedly connecting Netanyahu to acts defined by the law as offenses. And this evidence – despite all the goodwill of the people seeking his best interests – could no longer be denied.

Now Netanyahu turns to society’s democratic conscience. He complains about “political persecution,” even though everything is being done according to the law. He complains about cruel attacks on him by democracy’s watchdogs. He seems to expect society to adopt the distinction between law and justice; that is, he’s hinting that even if the law finds him “technically” an offender, nothing about his offenses harms the democratic justice on which his government relies.

This should come as no surprise. After all, he devoted the mandate that history gave him to sabotage the democratic compass of the State of Israel. He will have to see this as a personal failure if society manages to find its democratic compass and finally extricates itself from his grasp.

Netanyahu’s Israel has broken records in antidemocratic legislation. The history books will describe him as a man who created a dangerous mixture of religion and nationhood, marked Israel’s Arab citizens as an internal enemy, and the “opponents of the occupation” as collaborators with the enemy. He then declared war on them.

He’s the prime minister who took pride in hermetically closing Israel’s borders to refugees, and building detention centers for asylum seekers. He emptied democratic values of their meaning, mocked solidarity and encouraged swinish capitalism and scorn for the poor.

He was a leader who promoted inequality, fought against human rights, weakened the courts and threatened the media. He was a statesman who strengthened Israel’s diplomatic ties with dubious regimes, undermined ties with Western Europe and the pre-Trump United States. He is the ruler of a cruel, miserly, ugly and heartless Israel, heading a society torn into political, social and ethnic shreds, deeply at odds with itself and on the verge of civil war.

Like him, his wife and son, the style of his rule is greedy, hedonistic, alienated from the people, crude and impolite. He has also turned the Palestinians in the eyes of many Israelis into animals who aren’t partners; before at least they were considered bitter enemies who were potential partners for peace.

It’s hard to assess the damage that Netanyahu has done to Israeli society, or the years it will take the state to recover from the trauma of his years in office. First, Israeli society will have to go down to its roots and perceive its greatness. There are no parts of society’s body or memory that Netanyahu has not pressed, no wounds that he did not rub salt into, no scabs that he did not scratch until they bled. Not only Israeli society, but the entire Jewish people.

If the wheels of justice were synchronized to the legal clock, Netanyahu would have been sent to the political wasteland in November 1995. Now it seems reality is narrowing the gap and maybe will finally close it. He won’t be the first criminal in history whose crimes were known to everyone but was caught for lesser offenses than those of which he’s guilty.