Could Netanyahu, the Leftophobe, Be a Closeted Leftist?

Carolina Landsmann
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his  mask after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, Israel December 19, 2020.
Carolina Landsmann

Here we go again: A radical right-winger stops supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is denounced as a leftist: “The cat is out of the bag; Gideon Sa’ar announced this evening that he’d join a left-wing government.”

In fact, no reaction could exceed the absurdity of Netanyahu’s iconic reply to Avigdor Lieberman just before the 21st Knesset dissolved. “Avigdor Lieberman is now part of the left,” he said then, and was met with spontaneous laughter from his audience. Lieberman, a leftist? What a joke.

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The new “anyone but Bibi” camp is all about the radical right. Lieberman, Sa’ar, Zeev Elkin, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaded, Yoaz Hendel, Zvi Hauser – and the door is still open. It’s truly hard not to burst out laughing when you hear the prime minister hissing “you leftist” at supporters of annexation (a move he blocked), advocates of deporting migrants (he signed off on a UN plan that involved Israel absorbing some of the asylum seekers) and opponents of a deal with Hamas (he has held indirect negotiations with Hamas and bought relative calm).

It’s so ridiculous that it’s hard not to attribute to Netanyahu some sort of irrational hatred, a kind of leftophobia. And just like homophobia can hint at repressed homosexuality, perhaps Netanyahu’s leftophobia hints at repressed leftism. Could he be a closet leftist?

The biographical details fit – a dominant right-wing father who imbued him with hatred for leftists, the choice of a wife (Sara) with almost exaggerated right-wing characteristics. Perhaps it’s not for nothing that she’s so beloved by his supporters and so hated by leftists, who see her as the root of all of Netanyahu’s evil.

Perhaps all of them sense the dissonance in which Netanyahu lives. What do the “salt of the earth” blond from Jerusalem’s upscale Rehavia neighborhood and the officer from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit have to do with the Likudniks who vote for him?

If you ask Bezalel Smotrich, there’s no question. Last month, his National Union party launched a campaign demanding that Netanyahu and Likud vote in favor of a bill to legalize “young settlements,” aka illegal outposts. Its slogan is “Netanyahu, you’re right wing? Prove it!”

The settlers’ case is clear. Netanyahu didn’t keep his promise to apply sovereignty to the West Bank, despite having all the ideal conditions for doing so. He had a pure right-wing government, Donald Trump in the White House, a settler-supporting American ambassador and Justice Noam Sohlberg on the Supreme Court. They’re right. If he were truly an annexationist, Netanyahu would have annexed already.

The annexationist right understands that Netanyahu buried annexation through his normalization agreements with Arab states. And in this context, we need to talk about the demolition of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar.

Two years ago, the so-called leftist High Court of Justice, the ostensible gatekeeper, upheld the demolition. So why hasn’t Netanyahu carried it out? Why did Netanyahu fight the Regavim organization in court to avoid razing the village? Does anyone have an answer?

Moreover, in September, the state asked the court to postpone the hearing on Regavim’s petition for six months. Sohlberg – the settlers’ representative on the High Court – termed this request “embarrassing.” He genuinely seemed to be begging, “Demolish it already.” Poor guy, last month, the state announced that it wouldn’t raze Khan al-Ahmar in four months.

The center-left is convinced that the blow-up on the right and the revolt in Likud is happening because its lawmakers have realized that Netanyahu is corrupt, not because they are abandoning him for ideological reasons, and it has therefore welcomed this development.

Indeed, it’s very tempting to believe this. But what if it’s a smokescreen? What if the motivation is purely ideological? What if the supporters of annexation and a forever pure Jewish state have in fact realized that Netanyahu has begun the process of coming out of the political closet?

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