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Israel Has to Get Rid of Netanyahu, and Not Because of His Ideology

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People walk next to an election campaign billboard in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.
People walk next to an election campaign billboard in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

You need to remember just one thing on Monday. A person who carries on his back three indictments, who has dragged the country into three elections within one year, who lets characters like Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Bezalel Smotrich and Naftali Bennett rule over us; the man who ran roughshod over the judicial system, slowly poisoned the High Court of Justice, alienated 20 percent of the citizens and along the way trampled over the press – wants to keep being prime minister.

Neither values, principles nor even democracy are at the center of this election. Rather, the election is nearly the last means to uproot an affliction that threatens Israel’s very identity. Disguised as a prime minister, while he is actually being managed by his family and advisers, Benjamin Netanyahu continues to market himself as a magician – the man who can bring security to the citizens, the statesman who put Israel on a par with world powers – the “leader from another league” before whom world leaders bow.

And yet, Israeli citizens’ lives are not run by Putin or Trump and not by the Sudanese prime minister or the Ugandan president. Their quality of life, their identity and their pride depend on a failing cadre of spineless people who took on the job of running complex, delicate systems that are supposed to create a functioning society and a state that serves its citizens.

Netanyahu and his governments have created over the past decade a warped reality in which the state, that is to say Netanyahu, is above all else. The public’s short memory can only recall the tributes he has held in cities and neighborhoods, his farcical appointment of the state prosecutor and his empty promise to annex the territories.

This memory isn’t sufficient to internalize and file away the threats regarding Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have become a joke or the lies wrapped up in his campaign to save himself, his promise not to ask for immunity, not to legislate the so-called French law or the land-grab bill. The public’s medium-term memory has already forgotten the culture war that Miri Regev waged, her disdainful use of language when he told Kahlon four years ago: “You will never get the votes of the Mizrahim — only I know how to get them. I know who they hate: They hate the Arabs. And I know how to deliver the goods.”

The Mizrahim have already forgotten this. And then there was his racist comment: “My brother Ido, who is a physician, took a DNA test with saliva to check the theory that he descended from the Vilna Gaon, and it turns out we have genetic foundations of Sephardic Jewry” and of course “in our time not one Qassem rocket has struck, and Hezbollah had thousands of rockets and didn’t fire a single one, and when they did they were dealt a blow, and stopped firing for six years. They need to be scared of us.”

And the public continues to listen, to argue and to nod as if every statement is absolutely true without understanding that Netanyahu is implementing a revised form of the adage (erroneously) attributed to Abraham Lincoln, by which you can fool all the people all of the time. It is the world view that illuminates the universe in which Netanyahu operates. The enormous damage he has caused is rooted in two foundations: his disparagement of the public to the point of disdain, and the habit of Netanyahu winning, solidifying the notion that Israel can’t do without him. A prime minister who values his citizens would not appoint a scarecrow as justice minister and a haggler as culture minister, and they are but two examples.

Netanyahu doesn’t threaten Israeli democracy because it has already been forged in his image. He is a threat to the social contract and the faith that must exist between the ruler and the ruled. Getting rid of Netanyahu is necessary not because of the right-wing ideology he promotes. Ideology does not exist in his vocabulary. His riddance is vital because Israel needs a period of fresh air.