Analysis |

Netanyahu May Leave, but His Supporters Won’t Leave Him

Netanyahu supporters are converging into an increasingly rabid sect, which is detached from the rest of society and sees everyone who isn’t them as enemies

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Netanyahu supporters at an anti-government protest in Hadera in March.
Netanyahu supporters at an anti-government protest in Hadera in March.Credit: Rami Shllush
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

This is a terrible day of mourning for supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – the “Bibi-ists.” The movement that coalesced around Netanyahu during the years of his rule – and which followed him recklessly, with the appalling delegitimization first of the left and then of those right-wingers who dared oppose him – are exceedingly demoralized. Netanyahu always drew his strength from the narrative of “us against the world.” What can you do, those who battle the entire world will likely find themselves defeated in the end.

If Netanyahu had acted with a bit more consideration toward his right-wing partners, if he had avoided sinking into bitter disputes with people like Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, he could have retained their loyalty. Netanyahu is now paying for the contempt with which he, and his supporters, treated all of the above.

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Netanyahu won’t budge from his chair easily. He won’t transfer power smoothly and will remain for the “class photos” with his replacement, assuming Naftali Bennett indeed moves into the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street. A graceful withdrawal is just not in him. It’s just not them – not his family and not his loyalists. It’s not their style. It remains to be seen how Israel’s stormy change in leadership will look; will there be riots à la Capitol Hill, or some other trick that we cannot yet imagine?

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz’s suggestion, to replace Netanyahu in order to form a right-wing government, is laughable (Katz claims that he proposed this to the prime minister and was rebuffed; sources in Likud estimated that he first tried to advance the proposal through the party, and after the premier found out about it, he dropped it). It’s as laughable as the aspirations of Likud lawmaker Nir Barkat, who is organizing a self-aggrandizing rally. They are acting as if they don’t know Netanyahu. They are acting as if they don’t know Likud.

Netanyahu, if he leaves the Prime Minister’s Office, will go into the opposition and make the government’s life hell. His supporters will follow him and won’t hesitate to use any word, curse or form of protest. The rising incitement against Bennett and Shaked, who have been called “corrupt,” “swindlers,” and “traitors” are a pale promo of what’s to come.

This is all taking place with his permission and authority. Gideon Sa’ar and Zeev Elkin also ought to watch out. With the erupting anger and deep humiliation the Bibi-ists are feeling nowadays, even right-wing journalists like Amit Segal, Kalman Liebskind and Akiva Novick are being blamed for what happened. What difference does it make that they’re journalists? They were not loyal to the leader. Not loyal enough, anyway. That’s the Bibi-ist zeitgeist. Netanyahu supporters are converging into an increasingly rabid sect, which is detached from the rest of society and sees everyone who isn’t them as enemies.

The Bibi-ists won’t abandon Netanyahu. Not in the near future. To them he is already viewed as Dreyfus and Anne Frank squared. It’s not enough that the left/the prosecution/the courts/the media/the president/the American president/the local grocer/almost everyone in the word has declared a war on him to the death – now his right-wing partners have betrayed him.

Addicted to feelings of inferiority, fantasies of persecution, to blood libels with little basis in reality and especially to speculation and conspiracy theories, they will not accept a regime change that was achieved as a result of a democratic election. They will not leave him because this is how they love him best. A tragic hero, a noble victim, who redeems them from the condescension of the entire world. You can change how you vote, even if that’s difficult. It’s impossible to change a state of consciousness.

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