Israel Is Heading to Its Most Dangerous Election Ever

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Netanyahu and Lapid at the Knesset.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

There has never been such a dangerous election here as this one. Now that the party platforms have been erased and the ideological boundaries have been blurred, even the old cliches – “They’ll divide Jerusalem,” “They’ll bring peace,” “Good for the Jews” or “Understands the Arabs” – have given way to the one and only thing on the agenda: Netanyahu – yes or no. Never before have we had something like this. Even back when the slogan was, “Say yes to the Old Man,” people were thinking about other issues and other candidates who had more going for them besides the fact that they were not David Ben-Gurion.

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Now an entire country is divided over one issue, which is one man. It’s all anyone talks about. The country’s entire future hangs on the question of whether the next prime minister will be the same as the current one. It doesn’t matter who or what might replace him. It doesn’t matter where the country is going and where it is coming from. The main thing is that it will either be with him or without him. If any more proof is needed of the incredible phenomenon known as Benjamin Netanyahu, here it is: An entire country is preoccupied with him alone. Give his supporters a country full of disasters with Netanyahu heading it, and they’ll enthuse over it. Give his opponents a country of nightmares but without him – and they’ll be just as keen.

This will come with a heavy cost. Israel could wake up the day after the election to a government and country it had no desire for. No one in the anti-Netanyahu camp, which is currently the majority, will forgive anyone who dares to sabotage the establishment of the only dream government – the non-Netanyahu government – even at the price of wiping out the last remnants of ideological identity. It will not be considered opportunism if Meretz sits in a Gideon Sa’ar government, as it has already said it would do, or if Labor sits with Avigdor Lieberman and Yair Lapid with Naftali Bennett. The end will sanctify the means.

Since there can be no non-Netanyahu government without the right, perhaps only with its leadership, we can anticipate another rightward shift to places that a majority of Israelis may have no desire to go, but will do so for the sake of the satisfaction and gloating it will bring to see Netanyahu finally defeated.

Israelis who want a free, secular life will get minimarkets that are closed on Shabbat, as Sa’ar wants, and won’t be able to say a word; they’ve been liberated from the curse of Netanyahu, after all. Israelis who learned during the pandemic that nothing compares to the welfare state in helping everyone in a time of need will get even more piggish capitalism than before, with more and more privatization, even libertarianism, as Bennett is promising. Israelis who cringe at the horrid treatment of asylum seekers will get a government that harasses and expels the refugees who remain here, just as long as Netanyahu isn’t heading it.

And of course, Israelis who feel uncomfortable with the continuation of the occupation will get more attempts at annexation, more abuse of the Palestinians and eventually another cycle of bloodshed, as all the right-wing party leaders want. This is what the anti-Netanyahu camp will get as a bonus, if Sa’ar, Bennett and Lieberman are all strengthened as a result of the anyone-but-Bibi campaign.

Israeli politics has reached a dead end and is steadily detaching from its mother ship: the public. The connection between the politicians’ chatter and what is on the minds of Israelis is growing every flimsier. Israel has lost interest and lost hope in politics. It’s been brainwashed to believe that politics is exclusively about will it or won’t it be Netanyahu.

Today, seeing Netanyahu behind bars is the fondest wish of a much broader swath of the public than seeing the signing of a peace agreement with Syria, for example. Fed up with politics, Israelis are focused almost exclusively on their personal concerns: earning a living, kids, vacation getaways, shopping, with the coronavirus hanging over everything.

In a normal country this would be a healthy situation. But Israel cannot fake normalcy and therefore disgust with politics spells catastrophe. The mad campaign to get rid of Netanyahu has contributed a good deal to this. If ousting Netanyahu is all that matters, then really, what do we need politics for now?

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