'Game of Thrones,' Israeli Politics Edition: Who Is the Netanyahu of Westeros?

Niv Hadas tries to draw parallels between characters in this series and Israel's political scene.

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, on a 'Game of Thrones' setting (photoshopped)
Kobi Gideon / GPO / HBO

In his 1991 novel, “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” Douglas Coupland coins the term “conspicuous minimalism” – defining yourself by what you aren't and by what you don't have: “I don’t have a cellphone,” “I don’t have a checkbook,” “I don’t smoke,” “I don’t wear brand-name clothes,” “I don’t listen to songs by Beyoncé,” “I don’t vote in elections,” and so on.

In conspicuous minimalism, the absence of something serves as intellectual property. Television, as an electrical appliance and as a cultural idea, is considered food for the soul. The absence of a television set – “We don’t own a television set” or “I don’t watch television” – is a bon ton, especially in an era in which the media excel, because it constitutes a double dose of arrogance that is nonetheless integrally linked to the present Golden Age.

Among the members of this group is a subgroup that takes conspicuous minimalism to its televised extreme. Its members make a point of stressing the fact that they do not watch the big TV series of the moment in the name of individualism – that is, in the name of standing out from the rest of the herd. (Although I admire those who proclaim, “I haven’t seen even one episode of ‘Girls,’” – is it not a pity to miss watching a masterpiece just because of antagonistic feelings toward hype?)

One of the commonest forms of this genre – a kissing cousin of “I preferred the British version of ‘House of Cards’” – is a blatant refusal to watch “Game of Thrones,” the symbol of global social cohesiveness in today’s world. Thus, “I don’t watch ‘Game of Thrones’” is a statement that will turn you into the star of every party, dinner or business meeting and will have the same effect as your saying, “I am now on a diet where I eat only pets – it's great for my blood type,” or “I have scheduled sex-reassignment surgery.” This kind of statement will bring everything to a stop and will call for total recalibration.

However, a counter-movement – opposition to such oppositions – has developed as a response to this kind of attitude. Last week, VICE published a detailed guide designed to help those who do not watch “Game of Thrones” to slide smoothly into the “water-cooler conversations” that take place after every episode.

I have a much simpler solution: to draw parallels between characters in this series and Israel's political scene. I am not talking about distinguishing between good guys and bad along the lines of left versus right, but rather about an attempt to match character traits and plot lines in the series with "Israeliana."

Forget the gender

For instance, Shimon Peres, Israel's late former president and prime minister, who knew how to make his way into any government coalition in the Knesset by weaving ties that at times were deceptive, is Tywin Lannister, who always knew how to reach any key position in any regime. In contrast, if we thought at first that the perfect match for Jaime Lannister was Yoaz Hendel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former communications director, we discovered, after a few seasons, that his match was really Yehudah Glick – a religiously observant, right-wing member of the ruling Likud party.

Glick is someone who strikes you during your very first encounter as a scoundrel, but after you begin to delve more deeply, he emerges as a truly original and complex personality that defies any definition based on clichés – as someone that the other side of the political map would love to recruit but who will never be an ally, as the other side ultimately realizes, with deep regret.

This image released by HBO shows Lena Headey, left, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in 'Game of Thrones'.
Helen Sloan/HBO via AP

According to this logic – and if we momentarily forget about gender differences – Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu could ideally be cast as Cersei Lannister, and his wife Sara as King Aerys II Targaryen, also known as "the Mad King.” Like Bibi, Cersei knows how to play the game better than anyone else in the kingdom: She forges strategic pacts, finds sycophants who will obey her every command, and does not hesitate to neutralize political threats when they first arise. Like Bibi, she wants to glorify her father’s name during his lifetime and to preserve his legacy after his death.

One resident of the Netanyahus' official residence in the fortress on Jerusalem's Balfour Street is a woman who really believes that, without her, Westeros will cease to exist, who treats in a patronizing, contemptuous manner everyone on a lower rung of the hierarchical ladder, and who is obsessive about being treated with immense respect and about receiving gifts. Last weekend she was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “Let’s just leave Israel. For all I care, the whole country can just go up in flames.” This is her version of the cry, “Burn them all!” that escaped the lips of King Aerys, who dispatched to his opponents – and to all those who, in his uncontrollable paranoia, he suspected were his opponents – thousands of jars of green-hued wildfire, burning them to death.

In Israel's current six-party coalition government, we can find the Sparrows in the form of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews who, through their Supreme Leader (the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef), aspire to bring all members of the nation back to the strict observance of the religious commandments in order to draw them closer to God.

We also find Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home), a party whose members regard themselves as the powerful masters of Meereen and Slaver’s Bay, as the chosen people. This is a party driven by a religious, messianic zealotry that seeks to subjugate all of the allegedly inferior neighboring nations – although the fictional parallel of MK Nissan Slomiansky, an observant Jew who has been suspected of sexual misconduct, would be Grand Maester Pycelle, who loves caresses.

For her part, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from the same party, is perfectly matched with Sansa Stark, a young ruler whose sunny countenance is misleading and who has learned the hard way how to move forward and to survive, after having been burned by more experienced players.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, June 13, 2017.
Oren Ben Hakoon

B-G as Brandon the builder

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, another right-wing coalition party, is Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane whom, from the first season, people want to put on trial and punish for his crimes, but who repeatedly emerges with renewed strength from all these attempts, as his enemies vaporize into the unknown.

In Prime Minister Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, there is former Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who closely resembles Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, who is waiting for just the right opportunity to seize the iron throne. And also, of course, there's MK and Coalition whip David Bitan, whose fictional counterpart is Hodor, the simpleton.

Before we get to the opposition parties in the Knesset, let us hold a memorial rally to remember the fallen who are buried in the cemetery section reserved for Westeros’ exalted leaders. Among them are Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who is Brandon Stark, also known as Brandon the Builder, the nation’s founder. There is also former Prime Minister Ariel “Arik” Sharon is Robert Baratheon, the great general, who basks in the glory of his battles and who loves to hunt wild boar.

Finally, there is Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jew, following protests by right-wing extremists who branded Rabin a traitor for signing the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians) – the parallel of Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark, who was murdered after having been accused of treason and who undoubtedly, like Rabin, would also have refused to wear a bulletproof vest, because leaders who live in close contact with their nation cannot do that.

On the other side of the aisle, in the opposition, the situation is not much more flattering: MK Yair Lapid, a resident of the upscale Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv, and the party he leads, Yesh Atid, are the Tyrells of Highgarden – a family that sits on the fence, rules the most profitable zone in the kingdom and joins the winning side, depending on how the wind is blowing at that particular moment. Sometimes it organizes a protest demonstration overseas whose motto is “We love Westeros” and prays in public in the Great Sept of Baelor; other times, it comes out in favor of the secular middle class.

Israel’s Labor Party is the North, a place with a magnificent history, where endless intrigues and acts of treason have threatened to disintegrate and totally destroy it over the years, and in whose midst one can find the leader, the adopted stepson – the newly elected chairman Avi Gabbay, or Jon Snow – along with the fearless representative of the younger generation, MK Stav Shaffir, who is Lady Lyanna Mormont of Bear Island.

Eldad Yaniv, former adviser to former Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak – and author of the political manifesto “The New Zionist Left” – is Lord Varys, who wisely and craftily switches loyalties but is now on the right side as he aims at bringing justice to his nation. Barak himself is Tyrion Lannister – a gifted, well-educated and arrogant general, who understood that he lacked the ability to rally the nation around him and who prefers to advise someone whom he considers to be the best candidate for a leader who's capable of changing the situation.

Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, Labor’s previous leader, is Robin Arryn, the son of the highly respected and much admired John Arryn who, because of his delicacy and illnesses, cannot live up to his father’s image and who is still breast-fed at age 8.

And Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich is Catelyn Stark – the voice of reason whose sense of justice sometimes arouses antagonism.

Former Likudnik and ex-Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon is Stannis Baratheon, who is straight as an arrow, stubborn and sans charisma, and acts only to serve goals that reflect his cold, rigid sense of justice.

Finally, in the opposition, there is the Joint Arab List party ־ the Iron Islands, whose residents have failed in attempts to launch a revolution and feel they are discriminated against.

Only Daenerys Targaryen has no suitable representation in Israeli politics because no one is perceived as a worthy successor to Netanyahu – that is, as a leader who is electable, who can unite a nation suffering from numerous schisms and can lead the country forward. Perhaps only when a charismatic blond woman with three dragons arrives, will a suitable solution for Israel's political situation be found.