If Meir Kahane rose from the dead and declared his opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, the center-left would embrace him warmly and Haaretz would fill up with headlines like “Kahane was right.” If Kahane’s heir, Itamar Ben-Gvir, attended the protests outside the prime minister’s residence with a submarine float on his shoulders, mocking Netanyahu’s links to the “submarine affair,” he’d receive a neighborly welcome as well.
This is but one piece of damage done by this protest movement: It legitimizes the part of the Israeli right that opposes Netanyahu. But no, the Israeli right isn’t legitimate, even its members who believe that Netanyahu is the father of all impurity and that every effort must be made to remove him from power.
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Nothing can legitimize the supporters of apartheid. It’s too bad they don’t remember this all the time at the protests at Paris Square near the prime minister’s residence. They hang their hopes on Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett or Avigdor Lieberman and treat one of Lieberman’s legislators, Eli Avidar, like a local hero.
Imagine a movement that supported the rape of women. If it’s opposed to Netanyahu, it goes without saying that it would be seen as a preferable alternative. After all, it’s against corruption, and it’s willing to do anything to topple a prime minister who has been indicted.
This movement’s support for rape would be forgotten as if it never happened. There are more important things to unite around. Should the center-left accept it? Should the Balfour Street protests consider it one of their own? Should removing Netanyahu from office “at any price” hold true in this case as well? Very doubtful.
This is exactly how the center-left should regard anyone who supports the continuation of the occupation, the dispossession and torture based on apartheid for the sake of bolstering “the Jewish character” of the state, one that deports all asylum seekers and discriminates against Arab Israelis. The alternative to the right of Netanyahu, the only possible option at the moment, ensures all those great treasures. Even a racist who’s willing to commit suicide to remove Netanyahu from power is a racist. This shouldn’t be forgotten for a moment.
There is nothing fair about Bennett, who wants to confine Palestinians inside enclaves and leave them without any rights forever. There is no legitimacy to Yifat Shasha-Biton, who shows mercy toward small businesses but doesn’t have a shred of mercy toward 5 million little people. And there’s no glorifying the articulate Sa’ar, who openly advocates for a racist Jewish state and takes pride in deporting asylum seekers while every country in Western Europe has taken in hundreds of thousands of them, except for Israel.
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In Europe, a politician who takes a photograph beside the carcass of a lion would end his or her career in shame; in Israel, politicians, even centrists, who take pride in killing people are legitimized. When Israeli soldiers jump for joy after they snipe at a Palestinian protester along the Gaza border, politicians melt with joy. When politicians who consider themselves feminists fight to the death against any harm to women while ignore the shooting of a helpless 14-year-old girl at a roadblock, they’re lying to themselves. There is no such feminism and they are illegitimate.
The responsibility of protesters against Netanyahu is particularly great since there are thousands of young people among them for whom this is their first civilian and political experience, and we mustn’t let them believe that to be a good citizen it’s enough to wave a black flag at the prime minister or bang a drum on a bridge. They mustn’t think that it’s enough to oppose wholesale political corruption by rotten politicians to be considered a fighter for justice.
Even if a majority supports the continuation of the occupation – and that’s the situation in Israel – it’s a majority that’s supporting crimes, and this isn’t legitimate. Tens of thousands of young people attend the protests? That’s very encouraging. But we also have a duty to tell them what’s also being done in their name on a daily basis.
There is no such thing as a “clean right” in Israel, nor was there ever one. A legitimate right could exist in any country that isn’t an apartheid state. Not in Israel.
In South Africa as well there was no legitimate right. We can’t let disgust for Netanyahu’s deeds legitimize such a right wing. We can’t let people believe that he only needs to be removed from power and everything will somehow rectify itself, while in the meantime lend legitimacy to someone who must never be legitimized at all.