Such happiness hasn’t been seen in Israel for a long time: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is about to fall. The decent center-left is celebrating, in Tel Aviv suburbs like Ramat Hasharon the champagne is flowing. “The tyrant has fallen,” one commentator wrote. Some people hosted a festive barbecue.
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For a moment it’s as if Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu have been executed, Muammar Gadhafi has been taken out, Saddam Hussein has been captured, the Berlin wall has fallen, Nelson Mandela has been freed and the Soviet Union has crumbled. Israel has gone from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. Netanyahu’s going home, maybe to jail, and Israel is liberated.
The schadenfreude for Netanyahu and his family is understandable, and they deserve it. So is the joy over the possible end of his reign. We can understand the revelers who saw the destruction.
But how easy it is to put that all on Netanyahu. How convenient to think that it’s just him and not us. That everything is because of the ruler and not his voters and followers – most of the people. That Netanyahu was a tyrant and his fall means freedom.
How tempting it is to think that if only he’s replaced Israel will become a different country, like the one we dreamed of. That the morning after Netanyahu, the dawn that’s now breaking will be the dawn of a new day in which all the bad things will disappear as if they’ve never been. Hocus pocus – a different Israel.
How intoxicating it is to think that the person who replaces Netanyahu will be better than Netanyahu. That the next prime minister will bring hope. That the years of right-wing, nationalist and religious government are over, that whoever comes instead, even from the right wing, is preferable. That all the excellent and promising candidates are warming up on the starting line.
That it can’t be worse than Netanyahu. That if we only get rid of King Bibi and the imperial family, Israel will become a more just place. That Israel without Netanyahu won’t be nationalist or racist, an occupier or corrupt, arrogant or violent. It’s not nice to be a party pooper, to spoil such rare joy, but getting swept away like this has no basis in reality.
Netanyahu bears a great deal of the blame for Israel’s situation, especially domestically. His years have been hard ones for justice, equality, freedom, peace, democracy and humaneness, as well as for minorities and the weak. These years have also been good for arrogance, brute force, recklessness, nationalism, violence and the settlements.
But as strong as he was, Netanyahu doesn’t bear the blame alone. There was a broad coalition around him, a weak opposition and a nation that supported him. As a sophisticated populist, Netanyahu didn’t mold the spirit of the people, he reflected it. He didn’t invent Israel as it is today. The people invented it.
The joy is exaggerated and premature, not because Netanyahu is about to exit, but because his exit heralds very little, if anything. It’s the first step on a long road and the destination isn't clear. A necessary step, but by no means enough. Netanyahu’s departure isn’t critical.
Anyone-but-Netanyahu is the shallow, fleeting fashion of people who seek revenge and schadenfreude, whom we can understand but whose conclusions we don’t agree with. Netanyahu was never the demon he was depicted as, and getting rid of him will liberate us from nothing but his wife and son.
Netanyahu the horrible will go, and he will be replaced by Likud's Gideon Sa’ar or Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid; one is more extreme than the other and the other is more hollow – and they’re both worse than Netanyahu.
Netanyahu will go and the right-wing ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman will stay. Netanyahu will go and the hatred of Arabs will stay. Netanyahu will go and the certainty that we’re a chosen people will stay. And most certain of all: Netanyahu will go and the occupation will stay, even if the unbelievable happens and Labor’s new leader, Avi Gabbay, becomes prime minister.
Hunger for vengeance and schadenfreude aren’t enough to change this reality. Nor is it enough just to replace the person at the top. To generate change, Israeli society has to undergo a painful process, no sign of which is on the horizon. Only a revolution in thinking will generate change. But for now this revolution has no one to implement it, with or without Netanyahu.
A great day is coming soon. Netanyahu is about to exit. A few Israelis will weep over his departure, but even fewer should be so happy about it. Netanyahu is going, and Israel is staying the way it was.