Opinion

Collective Insanity Gives Netanyahu’s Right Wing a Crushing Advantage Over Center-left Rivals

As with Trump’s GOP, the Likud is no longer constrained by laws, conventions, traditions or values

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chant slogans and hold up signs in support of him during a rally in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2019.
AFP

Likud Minister Yariv Levin blamed Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan on Monday for plunging Israel into its third elections this year, which he described as “total lunacy.” Levin, who is charged with the failing coalition talks with Gantz’s party, was accurate in his diagnosis but completely off the mark about its cause. He is showing signs of what psychologists call “projection.”

Here’s a simple test based on the question: What would make Menachem Begin turn in his grave? Would the venerated leader of Likud and its progenitor Herut, known as a stickler for the rule of law and minority rights, turn in his grave over a former army Chief of Staff who sticks to his campaign promises and refuses to serve under a prime minister who has been formally indicted on three charges of corruption?

Or would he be more likely to revolve in his resting place because one of his successors is turning a blind eye to said indictments, trying to delegitimize the legal system that has charged him, is using the prime minister’s office as a place of refuge and is willing to inflict utter chaos on his country in order to escape the long arm of the law?

And what would Begin - or any practicing psychiatrist - have to say about a prime minister who no longer differentiates between truths and lies to the extent that even his ardent admirers no longer believe a word he says? A prime minister who devotes hours on end, moves mountains and oceans, and, according to the attorney general, commits serious crimes just to get his wife’s photo better placement on the homepage of a news site? A politician so paranoid that he starts to believe his own concocted conspiracy theories? One who has convinced himself that his country is doomed without him?

Levin, after all, is a senior figure in a political party that has willingly chosen to bury its head in the sand and to pretend that its leader’s behavior is completely normal. He is a partner in a political movement that eliminates gatekeepers, maliciously erodes public confidence in its legal system and seems willing to burn the house down just to save its indicted leader. Like his colleagues, Levin is projecting the evil winds that have driven Likud over the edge onto his political rivals.

The collective psychosis that has gripped Likud in particular and the Israeli right in general is the outcome of myriad factors, some unique to Israel: Netanyahu’s undeniable charisma and political wiliness, his ongoing elimination of formidable rivals, the age-old right wing yearning for a “strong leader” and the transparent efforts of Jewish settlers and their lobby to piggyback on Netanyahu’s attempted prison break in order to demolish the liberal underpinnings of Israel’s democracy that they have long despised.

Devout leftists would, of course, add the occupation to the list. After more than 50 years, and as forecast, the distortion of lording over another people has finally spilled over the green line and is whittling away at the sanity of the occupiers themselves, they’d claim.

The derangement syndrome of Netanyahu and the right isn’t just a local matter, however. The insanity that is touching the Israeli right is a global pandemic infecting similar ideological movements throughout the world, including, chiefly and most egregiously, the United States. Donald Trump is not only far more ignorant, impulsive, and reckless than Netanyahu, he is actually taking the side of America’s enemies against its own interests.  Following in his footsteps, the Republican Party is gradually adopting Trump’s blatant appeasement of Russia; it’s doubtful whether Netanyahu would or even could go as far vis a vis Iran.

The fact that we’re dealing with a widespread phenomenon is an indication of method in the madness. Pundits and researchers point, inter alia, to spreading globalization, the widening gap between rich and poor, the omnipresence of social media, which spreads strife and division, and the receding lessons of the Second World War, which had hitherto restrained right-wing parties from returning to the authoritarianism and xenophobia that characterized them in the 1920s and 1930s.

In any case, insanity creates an uneven playing field, giving the right a distinct advantage: It no longer feels bound to laws, constitutions, conventions, traditions or morals. Psychosis transforms the most heinous misdeeds into justified necessities. In order to meet the challenge, the right’s rivals must face up to the fact that they are facing an outburst of irrationality, which will require long-term treatment and recuperation. Even after Netanyahu - or Trump for that matter - exit the scene, the insanity they leave behind will continue to plague their right-wing parties for many years to come.