Opinion

Power-worshipping Netanyahu Wields Trump’s Big Stick to Beat Palestinians Into Submission

A prime ministerial tweet corroborates suspicions that Israel is drifting away from its liberal heritage to embrace neo-fascism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, July 15, 2018
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

A tweet sent out by Benjamin Netanyahu’s office last week with an excerpt from his speech at a ceremony marking the renaming of the nuclear facility in Dimona in Shimon Peres’ honor was mostly ignored in its Hebrew edition but sparked a twitter-storm in its English version. “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong,” the tweet read.

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Netanyahu’s defenders can claim that the thousands of damning replies to Netanyahu’s words ignored the setting in which they were said, at the Dimona reactor, as well as their overall context, which was the threat posed by Iran. Nonetheless, it’s hard to understand the wisdom of disseminating the prime minister’s militant message to the world.

Showing a complete lack of self-awareness, Netanyahu and his aides failed to anticipate the anguish the tweet would cause to supporters of Israel or the valuable ammunition it would provide to its enemies.

Netanyahu’s words corroborated suspicions that Israel is turning its back on its democratic and liberal heritage and embracing neo-fascism in their stead. The distorted Darwinian diagnosis that only the strong survive was a fundamental building block of the ideologies of the most notorious fascist dictators of the 20th century.

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Netanyahu’s detractors could easily locate parallel quotes from Adolf Hitler (““The natural struggle for existence leaves only the strongest and healthiest alive.”), Mussolini ("If two irreconcilable elements are struggling with each other, the solution lies in force. There has never been any other solution in history, and there never will be.) and many others.

History, moreover, proves the opposite of Netanyahu’s claim: Even the strongest superpowers, from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman, from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia, were “erased from history”, mainly because they relied on force alone. Of all the nations, it is the Jewish people who proved, throughout two millennia of exile and persecution, that survival depends no less on perseverance and faith than it does on might and power.

Hitherto, this was Israel’s creed as well. It’s not the tank that wins, said legendary armored corps founder Yisrael Tal, but the man inside it. According to its past leaders, Israel’s prowess and its victories on the battlefield derived not only from its tanks and fighter jets but from the justice of its cause, the purity of its arms, the camaraderie of its soldiers and the unity of its people. Israel’s physical prowess was enhanced many times over because it was a democratic and enlightened country that stretched out its hand in peace. In Netanyahu’s speech - and in his policies - all of these are absent.

Netanyahu’s belligerent assertion wasn’t a slip of the tongue or a quote taken out of context, but a fundamental tenet of his Weltanschauung, his view of the world. The Arabs understand only force, he believes, following in the footsteps of past leaders of his right-wing movement, from the pre-state underground to Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon.

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This is the internal logic of Donald Trump’s recent steps against the Palestinians, which originate, without a doubt, in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. With Trump’s powerful big stick, Netanyahu seeks to oppress and obliterate Palestinian aspirations for an independent state, a capital in Jerusalem and a settlement of the refugee problem. Not by negotiation, reconciliation, consideration or concession, but by the combined brute force of Trump and Netanyahu alone.

Any leader who exalts and worships the external power of his country, like Netanyahu, is bound to reach unavoidable conclusions about its internal fortitude as well. Building an unassailable force requires the suppression of elements that weaken the state from within and thus prevent it from reaching its full potential. At first it’s the critics, the defamers and the knife-in-back stabbers, then come civil rights and the rule of law. In the end only democracy remains, but history proves that under such circumstances, its demise is inevitable.