The comparison between the Netanyahu trial and the Dreyfus trial has really caught on. “Today the Dreyfus trial will begin,” tweeted Dreyfus’ son, Yair Netanyahu, several hours before his father, Israel’s prime minister for the past 11 years, spoke to the nation as usual, uninterrupted, and presented his “j’accuse.” Not exactly the profile of a voiceless Jewish officer, the protagonist of the anti-Semitic libel in the French army in the late 19th century.
“On Sunday I am being put on trial,” declared reporter Avishay Ben Haim on social media and on television, his “je suis Netanyahu” declaration that our Dreyfus shared on his Facebook page. “On Sunday my trial begins, the trial against me,” continued Ben Haim, identifying with someone who in his opinion has fallen victim to the libel of our time, and volunteering to sit alongside him in the dock metaphorically, as though to say, “the person who you are in effect persecuting is me” – someone whose only fault is the stain of his origin. There is no greater gesture.
But Ben Haim’s willingness to bear the guilt did not come about naturally through an organic process of identification. It’s the product of Benjamin Netanyahu’s calculated and profiteering political strategy, which is nurtured by the ethnic rift and the genuine pain of the Second Israel – the disadvantaged classes, mainly Mizrahim of North African and Middle Eastern origin – which has cynically turned into a legal strategy whose objective is to blur the evidence against him.
Actually, it isn’t even an original strategy. If the idea is to place all of Second Israel in the dock, and then pull a sophisticated switch between the collective accused and the collective accusers – in other words, to conduct a public trial for the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office (and by implication, the privileged First Israel: mainly Jews of European origin) – then there is room for a historical comparison with another trial, that of O.J. Simpson.
The Simpson trial, which in America was dubbed the Trial of the Century, exploited the pain of African Americans and enabled them to take revenge, justifiably, against the racist Los Angeles police. Simpson’s crime paled in comparison to the ongoing injustice committed by whites in their treatment of blacks.
In America, his acquittal despite all the evidence made white jaws drop and caused an eruption of catharsis among blacks. That is exactly how Netanyahu’s defense is trying to channel the pain of the Mizrahim for the benefit of Netanyahu – Second Israel’s political hen that lays the golden eggs – and offering Second Israel an opportunity to take revenge through him against the legal system, which is seen as the representative of the ethnic- and class-related injustice.
In the context of this comparison, Ben Haim is not Emile Zola but rather Johnnie Cochran, the legendary defense attorney who led Simpson’s defense team. (Outgoing Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich is Uncle Tom.) Although he gave voice to the ongoing injustice against blacks in America, including their treatment at the hands of the police, he got a guilty man acquitted. How is that possible? The idea is to let justice prevail, even if it isn’t your justice. Is it possible to live with that? Perhaps, depending on which Israel you belong to.
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In an excellent scene in “American Crime Story,” the TV series based on the Simpson trial, the actor playing Alan Dershowitz, a member of Simpson’s defense team, is talking to his students at Harvard University. They are all watching a live broadcast of the trial – Netanyahu also demanded that his trial be broadcast live. This may sound as though Cochran is shooting in the dark, Dershowitz tells his students when Cochran tries to present the police as those ones who hastened to conclude that Simpson was guilty. But, continues Dershowitz, Cochran understands what we have to do. It’s not enough to claim that the client is innocent; you have to provide an alternative story, not only to the court, but to the world.
This is the same Dershowitz whom Netanyahu quotes in his defense, and who shares his insights regarding Netanyahu’s indictments on Facebook. Some things never change.