Netanyahu Won’t Be a Footnote in Israeli History

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A Netanyahu supporter shows off his tattoo during a pro-Netanyahu demonstration in Jerusalem. in March.
A supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows off his tattoo during a demonstration in Jerusalem, in March.Credit: Hadas Parush
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The time has come for an assessment – an interim, not a final one: Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be remembered as a footnote in Israeli history. Contrary to what his many detractors claim, he’ll get a full chapter, and it won’t be all bad. Maybe his time has passed, or maybe not yet, but at this point we can assess the mark he has made, both for good and bad.

To his followers, it should be said that he has caused damage. To his critics, it must be told: To a considerable extent, he has also contributed. That has to be honestly recognized, even if it turns you into an unequivocal “Bibi-ist.”

He won’t be a footnote in Israeli history because he has changed the face of the country. His major accomplishment, a disastrous one, is that he has completely removed the Palestinian issue from the agenda – in Israel and around the world. Game over. The Palestinians have been left to their fate, at least for the moment. Netanyahu is considerably responsible for that.

From the standpoint of the right wing and the settlers, that’s a huge accomplishment. His second, much more impressive achievement is the dramatic reduction in the spilling of blood among the two peoples over his past dozen years at the helm: one war, unnecessary and criminal, like all the previous ones in Gaza, but not more than that. These weren’t years of peace, but also not years of war.

The coronavirus vaccination campaign is Netanyahu's most impressive accomplishment. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

You can’t ignore that Netanyahu has been one of the most circumspect prime ministers in the use of military force. Surrounded by warmongers in politics and the media, who, as is their wont, have incited him to attack, Netanyahu’s foot has been on the brakes. They’ve said he’s a coward – that’s further proof that Israel needs more cowards and fewer braggarts.

He’s not a man of peace, but he isn’t bellicose. That’s no mean feat in a country that has had people of peace who have spilled frightful quantities of blood, for nothing.

His major sin, of course, is his personal conduct, which is now the subject of a corruption trial. Netanyahu is doing everything to evade his trial at any price, and he must be held to account for that, but the reports about the destruction of democracy and the rule of law have been premature and exaggerated.

Still, when the wheels of justice and government are enlisted to maintain Jewish supremacy, it’s a bit hard to be shocked at the serious harm that Netanyahu has inflicted on the most warped democracy in the Middle East.

The harm that he has been causing in his desperate fight is all reparable. The damage that Jewish supremacy has caused is not. Clearly the current prospect of a fifth Knesset election is totally crazy and the product of Netanyahu's unbearable insistence on remaining in office, but it has plenty of supporters and the law has let him do this.

This eloquent and impressive statesman has surrounded himself with a spineless bunch of yes-men, to an extent never before seen in an Israeli government, but the blame and shame lie much more with them than with him. He has signed agreements with several Arab countries; you may have doubts about whether they’re reality-changing, but they can’t be played down, as the peace camp does.

He has made Israel’s Arabs legitimate players in the game of politics, even if he did so out of cynical motives. It’s a fact that the pro-change camp has never summoned up the courage to act as he has. Netanyahu, who has put Israeli politics entirely in his shadow – you’re either for him or against him – has laid bare the anti-Netanyahu camp’s hypocrisy and lack of ideas.

Netanyahu damaged efforts in the fight against the Iranian nuclear program, but that damage has now been wonderfully repaired by the Americans. In any case, he didn’t dare go to war against Iran; instead he just stirred things up against Tehran, and that apparently will stop now, on orders from the United States.

Above all, what will brightly shine is his most impressive accomplishment: Israel’s coronavirus vaccination campaign. He hasn’t received the full credit from the public that he deserves. Did it really happen or was it a dream? Life in Israel has been put back on track long before the rest of the world, and Israelis are taking it for granted.

It’s almost tempting to say that for this alone, he deserves another term as prime minister, but then everything else comes to mind, bringing us back to that interim assessment. He’s not the Messiah and redeemer that his admirers see in him, but he’s certainly not the terrible Satan that his opponents have painted him as.

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