Opinion

Post-Netanyahu Likud Can Only Recover From Stockholm Syndrome in the Opposition

After years in captivity, party stalwarts love their kidnapper and despise the legal authorities pursuing him

Netanyahu speaks at a conference at Tel Aviv University, September 15, 2019.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Paroled prisoner Jan-Erik Olsson walked into the Normalmstorg branch of Sverige Kreditbank on August 23, 1973, donning a mask and toting a submachine gun. He declared an armed robbery, took four people prisoner and held them hostage for six days until Stockholm police stormed the bank, released the hostages and captured Olson and his partner. The released hostages, however, praised Olson for treating them fairly and for protecting them from police brutality.

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The incident gave birth to the term “Stockholm syndrome,” which defines a phenomenon in which hostages develop a dependence on their captors and hostility towards law authorities pursuing them. Researchers later posited that victims of Stockholm syndrome can be found not only among small groups of hostages but also among larger populations that suffer from continued oppression and abuse, such as battered wives. If they had conducted their studies in Israel, they would have surely diagnosed leaders and supporters of Likud as suffering from collective Stockholm syndrome.

Psychologists believe that the longer hostages are held in captivity, the greater their chance of coming down with Stockholm syndrome: Benjamin Netanyahu, after all, has served as Likud leader for a total of 20 years, including the last 14, in which he became the party’s sole and absolute ruler.

Hostages, the theory says, obey their kidnapper's every order out of fear he will hurt them. They grow increasingly appreciative and attached when he doesn’t. Likud leaders, terrified of Netanyahu’s ability to ruin their career at a moment’s notice, walk in his footsteps eagerly and defend him from those seeking to harm him, with ever-growing conviction and enthusiasm.

The extended stay in intimate proximity with their captor changes the hostages’ basic worldview and values. They identify with their kidnapper and believe he is acting for their own good. They lose the ability to discern between good and evil, just and unjust, guilty and innocent. The police become the criminal and the perpetrator morphs in their minds in to an innocent lamb persecuted for no good reason.

Recovery from Stockholm syndrome can be long and hard. Some get over it within days, others suffer symptoms for years. Recuperation requires patient and sensitive treatment. Practitioners are advised not to reproach victims for their transgressions but to gradually highlight his or her detachment from reality. Some psychologists believe that Stockholm syndrome sufferers should be removed from situations that remind them of their recent hostage trauma.

Likud supporters protest outside Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's home against Netanyahu's indictment, November 23, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

So if and when law authorities release the Likud from their long captivity and from their fear of their captor Netanyahu, many of his lieutenants and disciples will continue to view him as a hero wronged by the law. Even though they are conscious of Netanyahu’s renowned greed, miserliness and crazed obsession with the media; despite the fact that Netanyahu has neutered and silenced Likud, turning it from a vibrant pluralistic party into a one-man platform dedicated to helping him escape the long arm of the law; despite the fact that he has lost two straight elections and is now hankering for a third, in which the party could suffer a devastating loss – for many Likudniks, Bibi remains King of Israel and his investigators evil usurpers.

Which means that what the Likud needs, in the impending post-Netanyahu era, is not an immediate return to the coalition and leadership of the country, which would only blur the post-trauma and entrench its manifestations. The Likud needs rest, treatment, recovery, perhaps even dismantlement and reconstruction. Its rivals should not castigate Likud for its Stockholm-like behavior but make sure the party has the time and space needed to recuperate.

And the best venue for Likud to come to terms with its hostage past and to recover from its addiction to its captor Netanyahu is, of course, in the opposition.