I want a word with my friends and neighbors who still plan to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu on April 9.
The other morning, when air-raid sirens woke you up, when a Gaza-fired rocket obliterated a home in central Israel and by some blessed, incomprehensible miracle did not murder the 6-month-old, the toddler, the 12-year-old girl and the four adults who are hospitalized and recovering from their wounds, your prime minister, visiting Washington, was huddling with his advisers over one critical question: How much campaign-worthy Oval Office TV time can I spend with Donald Trump before I absolutely have to go back home and deal with this?
The answer: plenty.
I want you to spend just one short moment thinking about what kind of man this is. Acknowledge the damage he does. Recognize the ways he has racked and crippled and poisoned this country. And lined his pockets in the process.
And how very little he cares about anything other than re-election.
Then go ahead. He has shown you everything that he’s made of. The heartless, vicious husk of a man that he is. What happens after this will be your fault.
For years he has spent his political capital and energetic wiles on turning all of Israel into occupied territory – turning Israel Jewish supremacist supremacist rather than nominally democratic.
He has trained Israelis by the millions, an entire generation’s worth in the last quarter-century, that "we will forever live by the sword," that if there is any change in the current leadership or policy, in any direction, Israel’s precarious situation will become immeasurably, existentially worse. And that fundamentalist hard-line clerics must be coddled and heeded.
And, of course, when it does get worse, as it so often does – as in, this very minute – then his message to all of us is: Now it’s all the more vital that we stay the course with Bibi. Our rock and our redeemer.
But there’s a price.
Look closely at what’s been happening in recent years. By voting for Netanyahu you are turning this country’s government into a version of Hamas – antidemocratic, brutal, theocratic, callous. An entity that speaks in threats and curses and live fire, a leadership with no vision for peace, governance that is maximalist, mendacious, militarist, racist, manipulatively scapegoating in deflecting blame, fascistic.
An entity that could use its resources to deal with a multiplicity of problems – a hospital care crisis, for example – but is too busy with other concerns, like diverting needed resources to overkill weaponry.
Imagine a prime minister who, on his own initiative, over-orders hugely costly submarines that even his top military officials told him were superfluous.
Under Netanyahu’s aegis, Israeli hospital beds per 1,000 people have declined to less than half the OECD average, and medical centers across Israel are forced to jam their corridors with overflow patients.
As my colleague Matthew Kalman wrote in a Facebook post Monday, “Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009 and health minister for seven of the past 10 years, directly responsible for this growing crisis. But you’ll still vote for him, right?”
If you do cast your vote for Likud, it may be despite the messaging of the 2019 Netanyahu campaign, not because of it. Chances are, the rhythm of his campaign – a putrid innuendo every 12 hours, an outright lie every 24 – has not moved you, except to recoil.
In fact, never before have so many lifelong Likud voters been so willing to go on television and announce that they’re part of what some have called “the spongia vote” – those who, rather than voting, intend to stay home on Election Day and wash the floor.
And this is happening at a time when a growing number of Gazans have had it up to here with years and years of unabated Hamas rule.
Other Likud activists who are sick and tired of Bibi have said publicly that they can still vote for the party, confident in the prediction that if elected, the prime minister’s legal woes will soon force him to resign. But they said this before Netanyahu’s bobbing and weaving Saturday night, when asked by Israel’s Channel 12 if he would back legislation to keep him in power even under indictment.
“I haven’t gotten involved with this, and I don’t intend to get involved with this,” Netanyahu replied. Would he seek such a law? “I don’t know,” he said, adding (in his first interview in four years), “This is the first time I’ve been asked about this.”
Pressed again to answer, Netanyahu said, “I don’t believe I will get involved with this.”
In the end, as the 2019 election approaches its final week and a half, it’s shaping up as a race for right-wing voters between Benjamin Netanyahu the indispensable and Benjamin Netanyahu the insufferable.
A race between the Netanyahu who insists that he succeeded because he is “good at business,” runs his campaign by himself and knows everything about everything, and the Netanyahu who, pressed to apologize for the obscene, macabre, disability-mocking and women- and Mizrahi-hiding elements of his campaign, suddenly knows nothing about anything.
The Netanyahu who avoids all negotiations and all diplomacy, except for bribing, or endorsing, or otherwise pushing foreign autocrats to move their embassies to Jerusalem.
In the past, as in his upset come-from-behind victory against then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1996, Netanyahu could depend on Hamas to aid his campaign as a spate of shocking suicide bombings in major Israeli cities propelled the Netanyahu campaign to close a 20-point gap and come out on top.
Hamas, for its part, has long been able to deflect grassroots criticism and rally support against a common Israeli – often Likud-led – enemy, by pointing at Israel’s widespread use of live fire against Palestinian demonstrators at the Gaza border, Israel’s prolonged siege against the Strip, and the high rate of Gaza civilian casualties, many of them children, in recent wars.
Lately, however, on both sides, the tried-and-true campaign moves have been flagging. Part of the reason is demography, as a younger generation comes to the fore in both Israel and Gaza, a generation much less committed to lifelong support for Likud and Hamas respectively.
Perhaps more important, however, is the erosion in the two elements that brought both Likud and Hamas to power in the first place: their respective commitment to corruption-free government, and to social welfare programs directly benefiting the disadvantaged.
This is where Netanyahu seems to have lost the spongia voters. And, in just a week and a half from now, they may, in turn, cost him everything he has.
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