Journalist-researcher Avishay Ben Haim could not have said it better than legal affairs journalist Baruch Kra. “I’m TV Channel 13’s legal commentator,” Kra repeatedly told his colleague Ben Haim, who had dared describe the scene of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for his judges as “humiliating, a huge success of the elites.”
Ben Haim could and should have responded: “You’re right. You’re only Channel 13’s legal commentator. I’m its socio-political commentator.”
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Kra’s error is based on his understanding of Ben Haim as someone interpreting legal issues, whereas Ben Haim is actually telling Israel’s real socio-political story. This involves the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi conflict, the rift between the “first” Israel and the “second” Israel, in the context of which Netanyahu’s trial could be perceived as an attack by one camp on the leader of the other camp.
There is no truth more trivial than the theory of the two Israels, espoused by Ben Haim. Being so trivial, it evokes a quote by George Orwell that has already become a cliché. Orwell said, “The further a society drfits from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
The hatred towards Ben Haim, which made Kra blow up (“what you’re saying is not an opinion, it’s a lie”) stems from a denial of the sectarian truth underlying the political struggle in Israel. Ever since Netanyahu became identified with Mizrahi Jews (roughly when he appointed Miri Regev as Culture Minister in 2015), the struggle turned into one between the “Only Bibi” camp and the “Just not Bibi” camp.
All the attempts to crack the million-dollar question – why do Mizrahi Jews vote for Netanyahu – just like the attempts to recruit underprivileged peripheral areas of Israel to the left, among other ways by posting Mizrahi candidates, confirm Ben Haim’s theory.
The left is now synonymous with Ashkenazi, with Tel Aviv, with the just-not-Bibi camp, just like the term “Bibi-ist” is roughly overlapping with Mizrahi. That’s why Netanyahu had no problem pigeonholing Avigdor Lieberman as a leftist as soon as he opposed Netanyahu, and that’s why “leftists” have no problem voting for an extreme right-wing person such as Lieberman after he distanced himself from Bibi-ism.
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This is why Gideon Sa’ar is received on the left as a worthy alternative, as is Naftali Bennett. Anyone who doesn’t see the two camps that have formed here and the dividing line that roughly aligns them on a sectarian basis, trampling the older division between left and right, with Bibi and the ultra-Orthodox in one camp, and Sa’ar, Bennet, Lapid, Lieberman, Michaeli, Horowitz (and the Arabs) in the other camp, is oblivious to the facts.
No one is claiming that Netanyahu belongs to the “second” Israel. But while the left claims that Netanyahu is using Mizrahi Jews, Ben Haim argues that they are the ones exploiting Netanyahu, and that the “second” Israel has imposed on him a sectarian narrative, identifying his/their political persecution through the lens of his legal tribulations. If Netanyahu is convicted, the “second” Israel will be dethroned.
Ben Haim doesn’t claim that the police planted evidence, or that Netanyahu’s conspiracy theory is factually correct. He doesn’t say that Netanyahu is legally innocent. He doesn’t deal with the legal issues at all. On the other hand, one cannot deny that the roots of the hatred toward Netanyahu run deep, and that the left has been trying for years to beat him at the polling stations to no avail. I remember how when his investigation made some progress, he was compared to Al Capone, who was convicted for tax evasion. The lesson is clear: Netanyahu, too, will not be convicted for his serious transgressions (Rabin, his opposition to the Oslo Accords, etc.), but the main thing is that he be convicted.
In short, Baruch, don’t get mad at Ben Haim – he doesn’t have a problem with your legal commentary. He has one with the fact that you think that this is the entire story.