In the first chapter of George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984,” detained and tortured dissident Winston Smith peers out from his cell at the two white towers of the so-called Ministry of Truth, on which the motto of the Oceania dictatorship is inscribed: “War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength.” Citizens of Oceania prove their loyalty to country and Big Brother – aka BB – with proficiency in such “doublespeak,” which enables them to concurrently believe in two contradictory concepts and everything in between.
If Smith had been detained in Israel 2019, he would have felt right at home. Winston would appreciate the unique contributions of the local BB to the lexicon of doublespeak. “Immunity is a cornerstone of democracy,” for example. The immunity that Benjamin Netanyahu is so desperately seeking isn’t a cornerstone of democracy, of course, but an instrument with which one of its bedrocks, equality before the law, is demolished. But when Netanyahu proclaims with pathos that day is night, his disciples immediately swear it’s pitch-black outside.
The internal logic is similar. War unites the nation and stifles division, which brings peace. Freedom entails deliberation and choice, which is akin to slavery. Ignorance unites the masses behind the lies of their leaders, thus emanating strength. Netanyahu’s similar equation adds a creative twist: Immunity is a cornerstone of democracy because it heads off the “putsch” that Netanyahu alleges, which is a figment of his imagination in the first place.
Netanyahu’s uber-absurd immunity = democracy stipulation reflects his growing desperation after realizing that his chances of securing immunity from this or the next Knesset are slim and possibly nonexistent, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz this week. In recent days, however, Netanyahu’s distress has been augmented by seemingly contradictory symptoms of hubris. After garnering 72.5 percent of the vote in his decisive victory in the Likud primary last week – despite his criminal indictments, his assault on the rule of law, the steep economic and social price of the elections he insists on repeating until he gets what he came for and the risk that his candidacy could remove his party from power – Netanyahu has come to realize that in terms of ability to blur distinctions between truth and lies, the sky’s the limit.
His arrogance, one must concede, is well founded. Throughout the past year, Likud in particular and the right in general have been like putty in his hands. As a master of doublespeak, Netanyahu can navigate between two contradictory poles without his followers puzzling over it or even noticing. The charges against him will evaporate, Netanyahu asserts, but if not, it’s a conspiracy. National unity is a disaster, no national salvation, which means total catastrophe.
Immunity? Out of the question, Netanyahu indignantly replied in a TV interview before the last election. His fans didn’t even blink when it suddenly emerged that immunity is a cornerstone of democracy. They even scolded Netanyahu’s critics for refusing to acknowledge such a basic staple of constitutional norms.
Donald Trump may have moved the hitherto wary and hawkish Republican right to stop worrying and love archenemy Russia, but Netanyahu did him one better: He has taught Likudniks to detest their own country, which they profess to love. In doublespeak it might be phrased as “Patriotism Is Self-Hatred.”
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Netanyahu’s Israel, after all, is rotten to the core: The police are bent, public prosecutors play politics, judges are usurpers, journalists invent stories, civil servants are backstabbers and the politicians, poor souls, are left marginalized and helpless. Netanyahu’s Israel is controlled by dark and sinister forces that are carrying out a coup d’état in broad daylight aimed at deposing him and installing a defeatist, Arab-loving leftist regime in his stead. And there’s only one man still standing to defend our cherished way of life, and his name is BB.
In old Israel, in which the only way to elude a criminal indictment was by acquittal in a court of law, Netanyahu’s prospects would have been dim. In the new Israel, the one Netanyahu is feverishly trying to build, he has far more avenues of escape – from immunity that scorns the law to transforming the elections to a popular tribunal that will decide his fate.
One thing’s for sure: If Netanyahu successfully completes his mission impossible, he won’t make do with immunity. Armed with a mouth that can transform saints to sinners, criminals to martyrs, laws to laughingstock and avoiding prosecution to a noble calling, there’ll be no stopping him. One day we will learn that “Empires Are Jeffersonian Democracy,” including a formal invitation to Netanyahu’s coronation.