Analysis |

Netanyahu Has Been Leading a Cold Civil War for Years. Now It's Threatening to Burst Into Flames

As it was before Rabin's 1995 assassination, so it is now: Netanyahu is convinced that he's the victim. He accused Rabin of incitement, and now he believes the 'deep state' hunters are out for his blood

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference before meeting with the Greek prime minister, June 16, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference before meeting with the Greek prime minister, June 16, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

On the afternoon of October 18, 1995, only a few weeks before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu participated in a Likud meeting in the Knesset. The party secretary quickly took the minutes with a red pen; they can be found in the Jabotinsky archive to this day. Those were the fiercest days of the protests led by Netanyahu against the Oslo II Accords, and which reached their zenith at the demonstration in Jerusalem's Zion Square, during which Netanyahu gave a speech from the balcony as the mob below shouted: “In blood and fire we will banish Rabin.”

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Alongside Netanyahu stood Knesset members from the right, among them David Levy. Levy’s speech was interrupted by the tens of thousands of demonstrators, and when he came down from the stage he said in anger: “The incited crowd here is harming the fight for the Land of Israel more than the greatest of leftists.” Levy, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor abandoned the protest demonstratively.

There were once people with freedom of thought in Likud. Today, Amir Ohana, David Amsalem, Nir Barkat and their colleagues are a choir of prisoners singing with one voice. At the end of that demonstration, a few hundred people marched in the direction of the Knesset, tried to break into the plaza in front of the building and vandalized ministers’ cars. In the meantime, Rabin was attacked at the Wingate Institute and the Shin Bet security service warned of an attempt to harm him.

Two weeks passed and the Likud Knesset faction met, and Netanyahu – who repressed the warning signs – attacked Rabin: “He must stop being the national inciter,” he told the Likud MKs, and accused Rabin of establishing “storm troopers” and “militias” with his supporters to defend the government in the streets. It reminds me of Ceausescu, Netanyahu stipulated, explicitly mentioning the name of the Romanian dictator.

He added that the “worst incitement comes from Rabin,” who is trying to “slander the popular opposition” and is calling us “Hamas collaborators” and a “fascist movement.” “With us, the extremism comes from the street,” he made clear to his colleagues, while using the magic word “the handful,” whose actions he condemned. For the Labor Party, “the extremism comes from above,” Netanyahu told them.

Netanyahu at the protest in Zion Square in Jerusalem, 1995.Credit: David Mizrahi

This forgotten performance for the Likud Knesset members reflects Netanyahu’s innermost soul. It would not be the last time the most determined, talented and brutal man in Israeli politics would turn himself into the victim in a scene in which the role reserved for him is that of the attacker. This pattern would repeat itself during his career time after time, and would become even more extreme as time went on.

When the criminal investigations against him for accepting favors and weaving bribery deals with publishers began, he successfully built an upside down and twisted picture of the world. In it, he was the prey, and a gang of corrupt hunters from the “deep state” had desired to “send me to jail.” This worldview, which he believes with all his heart, is what gave him the legitimacy to attack with exceptional savagery the investigators and prosecutors who dared to think that the evidence against him justified filing indictments.

From the minute the protest against the mismanagement of the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak began, Netanyahu wrapped himself in the warm embrace of victimhood. “They are going to murder a prime minister here,” he warned.

A man familiar with the meticulous circles of security surrounding Netanyahu asked if he was serious. "You're really convinced that your life is in danger?"

“Certainly,” Netanyahu answered him. “My life and the lives of my family.”

His interlocutor had the impression that this was not deliberate spin, but a deep and authentic feeling. The victimization and persecution that are imprinted and growing inside of him release Netanyahu from guilt feelings, pangs of conscience or even a shred of a feeling of responsibility. He sees himself as fighting a constant war of survival and defense against the stated and clandestine groups who are conspiring to bring him down or eliminate him. This is why he will never understand that he is the person directly and centrally responsible for the violent and bloody street battles that we saw this week, which could deteriorate into murder in seconds.

An injured protester who was attacked at the demonstration outside Amir Ohana's house, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020.Credit: Ben Nezer / Galatz

Since the 2015 election, Netanyahu has conducted a civil cold war that is now threatening to burst into flames. For five years, he has been creating a toxic, exclusionary, violent and acrimonious discourse. This debate suits the fighting spirit Netanyahu is addicted to. It seems he also realizes that this is the atmosphere that will guarantee that his base will be sufficiently loaded and fueled up for him to remain in power and save them from the imaginary enemy.

This civil war seems to be the most important legacy he will leave behind. Twelve hours passed before the man with the fastest and sharpest response around released a weak condemnation of the actions of the gang that wandered around Tel Aviv clubbing protesters and taking broken bottles to their heads.

If someone is murdered soon, Netanyahu will certainly use this condemnation as an alibi, exactly as he has used his attempts to sometimes hush up calls of “Death to Rabin” or "Rabin is a traitor,” as a disinfectant to this day. Even if someone is murdered soon, it cannot be expected that he will feel remorse. He is the one they tried to kill, the perpetual victim.

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