Analysis |

Netanyahu Has Launched the Decisive Part of His Plan: To Set the Country on Fire

The prime minister offers limp condemnation for injured protesters over social media and seems to be fueling extremist right-wing violence

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Demonstrators outside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana's home in Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020
Demonstrators outside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana's home in Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

In recent years, Benjamin Netanyahu has been the main instigator of violence in Israel, and by virtue of his position and standing, also the most dangerous one. His apprenticeship came in the fall of 1995, during the period of the Oslo Accords. In recent days, as his political, legal and family distress has increased, he has been implementing the decisive phase of his plan: setting the country on fire.

Fueled by winks and nods, on Tuesday night squads of extremist right-wing thugs armed with clubs and bottles took to the streets of Tel Aviv and attacked peaceable, law-abiding demonstrators. Netanyahu – the fastest draw on Twitter when it comes to himself or his son – waited, deliberately, for 14 hours before posting a self-righteous, hypocritical message that dealt mostly with himself and threats directed against him and his family.

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He called upon the police to investigate and “get to the truth,” meaning who attacked whom – Shay Sekler, the gentle-looking young man who didn’t exactly resemble Rambo, or those black-shirted hooligans incited by the Prime Minister’s Residence who slashed his head with the glass shard of a bottle. There was also a limp condemnation in the post. When the first demonstrator is murdered, Netanyahu will roll his eyes. I issued a condemnation, he will say, and retrieve some sentence from his Twitter feed that was hiding in his post.

We’ve almost forgotten how all this started. When he was indicted, I wrote that to keep his trial from going forward, including the testimony of state witnesses that is expected to spell his political end, he wouldn’t hesitate “to burn down the clubhouse.” Literally.

The "Last Supper" installation by Itay Zalait in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020Credit: Moti Milrod

Now the testimony phase of his case is approaching. In another five months, the first of those three state witnesses will take the stand. What can stop it? A civil war, for example. A siege of the Jerusalem District Court, for example.

Netanyahu is not the first prime minister who has been threatened. Ehud Olmert sustained serious threats over his negotiations with the Palestinians, as did Ehud Barak, as did Ariel Sharon over the disengagement from Gaza, including religious rulings against him.

And, of course, Yitzhak Rabin. The threats to him were of the most serious kinds – declaring that religious law permitted him to be killed, the scene at Zion Square in Jerusalem, coffins. And lax personal protection that doesn’t come anywhere close to Netanyahu’s countless layers of security. Yet none of the other prime ministers whined or complained from morning to night.

People will be stabbed and sustain blows on the streets from Netanyahu’s admirers, their heads nearly showered by water cannons pointed directly at them by a hateful policeman, and the robbed Cossack in the fortress on Balfour Street will lament his bad luck.

On the eve of Tisha B’Av, Netanyahu isn’t dreaming about creating a reconciliation cabinet, which is provided for in the agreement he signed with Benny Gantz at the end of April. His attention is directed to the next elections. And he would prefer a bloody campaign over any kind of reconciliation. He would prefer another round of elections in November, maybe at the height of a third wave of the coronavirus, and for emergency rooms to be collapsing from COVID-19 patients, along with protesters who have been assaulted and stabbed.

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