Opinion

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Victory

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

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Benjamin Netanyahu had already scored a historic victory even before his trial began. The right can enjoy this victory, which was perhaps achieved without being noticed, but which has fatefully sealed the fate of Israel’s agenda for many long years to come.

No matter what the outcome of the prime minister’s trial, either way his achievement is complete: The trial has entered the heart of public discourse, there is almost no other topic, all else has been pushed to the sidelines and removed from the agenda. This is no small achievement: It will allow generations of occupation, apartheid, and fake democracy. The right can sleep peacefully, the path to continue its injustices and crimes has been paved.

The most important and talked about trial in Israel’s history, excluding the Eichmann trial, is a criminal trial about wholesale corruption, concerning suspicions of positive coverage by Walla, and perhaps also some cigars and champagne. Israel is torn between two loud and opinionated camps − criminal or victim, only Bibi or anyone but Bibi. The Netanyahu trial has awakened Israel from its slumber and apathy, in a way that no other issue has done here in recent decades.

It’s not that the trial of a prime minister accused of criminal wrongdoing isn’t interesting and important − of course it is. But the total preoccupation with the Netanyahu trial has moved the center of gravity in society from a political discourse to one about ethics, and has turned it into the sole issue that Israelis are willing to fight for. Thus, the left has been stripped of its ideological assets, the fire has been directed to the margins and it has become a fighter of corruption instead of a fighter for peace, freedom, justice, human rights, equality and democracy.

The camp has devoted itself to the cause with ease. Very little courage is needed to fight over champagne. Now we have a movement for quality government instead of a left wing, instead of a real opposition.

This is the headline of the right’s victory. Thus they can now annex the territories, abuse asylum seekers, try to goad Iran or spill blood in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. Nobody will oppose them, no public debate will be sparked, we are dealing with the Netanyahu trial, please don’t bother us. The criminal arena has replaced the diplomatic and moral arena. Just give us another quote from Case 4000 and the country will be shaken.

This is how Kahol Lavan was born. On a good day it’s also a movement for quality government. The only thing it talks about is ethics, clean hands and being statesman­­-like. The people don’t want more than that. The political left has been destroyed, the flag has been folded and a white flag is flying in its stead. The only black flag remaining is the one that has been unfurled for the blows to the legal system and chimera of democracy. Black flags against apartheid and annexation are out of stock.

When the prime minister sits on the dock in Jerusalem District Court and all eyes are upon him, dozens of other people, whose trials are infinitely more important in real terms, will take their place not too far away and nobody will take any interest in them. Only a few kilometers separate the Jerusalem District Court on Salah al-Din Street and the military tribunal in Ofer, both of them on occupied Palestinian land, and yet the hills of darkness divide them.

In Ofer trials are held on a daily basis, which define Israel’s identity and its portrait, and its international standing and its morality, much more than the Netanyahu trial – and the courtyard in Ofer is remote and empty. Every day, the fates of innocent people − political prisoners, adults and children, freedom fighters and terrorists − are decided there, along with Israel’s verdict as an undemocratic country, all far from sight. In Ofer more than at Salah al-Din, Israel’s real corruption and crimes are revealed, but nobody is there, neither to protest nor to report about it.

Netanyahu the defendant stands on his feet, and already leaves behind a victorious legacy. His cigars interest his country much more than the bars that jail another people. Is there any better way to tell Israel’s story?

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