Israel's Despondent Center-left Impotent Against Netanyahu’s Masked Mutiny

His viral photo with masked Likud ministers seemed taken from grotesque horror-comedy hybrid about Contagion and The Hunger Games in Zombieland

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Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud ministers, speaks at the opening of his trial, May 24, 2020.
Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud ministers, speaks at the opening of his trial, May 24, 2020.Credit: AFP

The group portrait of Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Masked Mutiny” in the Jerusalem District Court this week ‒ which might also be dubbed “Coronavirus Coup” or “Pandemic Putsch” ‒ was painfully hilarious. The photo of masked Likud bigwigs jostling to get close to Netanyahu as they tried to gaze menacingly into the TV cameras seemed as if was taken from a mad dystopian sci-fi comedy, something along the lines of The Hunger Games meets Contagion in Zombieland. The laughter, however, quickly made way for fear and apprehension once Israelis realized that the macabre joke is life itself.

In his all-out, full frontal assault on investigators and prosecutors, Netanyahu showed once again that he has no more brakes or boundaries. At the bottom of the barrel, Netanyahu just keeps on digging. The intolerable, inconceivable and reprehensible don’t even qualify as warning signs anymore: Netanyahu will break any rule, nuke any norm, breach any promise, tell any lie, destroy any rival, ignore any law and erode any foundation of democracy to save his skin and stay in power. He is still king of the hill by virtue of talent and charisma, but also because of an unbridled lust for power inflamed, hard as it is to believe, by the eternal grievance of victimhood.

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The senior Likudniks who rushed to his side at the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday showed they don’t stop for red lights either. Netanyahu’s fawning followers will suffer any insult, weather any humiliation, disseminate any defamation, assassinate any character and sabotage any worthy cause in order to climb their way to the top and to keep Netanyahu and the right in power. Most may not have much talent or charisma, but they have no shame either: They are ranked and promoted mostly by the length of their tongues.

They were summoned to Netanyahu’s putsch portrait and rushed to his side. They didn’t bat an eyelid as Netanyahu, criminal defendant, hurled lies, distortions and crackpot conspiracy theories at the police, State Attorney and Attorney General, accusing them of plotting to frame him, like any don in the Cosa Nostra. Netanyahu and his kowtowers may be savaged and ridiculed by the press, but to their loyal and anxious base they broadcast strength, unity, determination and a willingness to wage total war and leave scorched earth in their wake, if the need arises.

The photo, grotesque as it may seem to outside observers, tells the whole story in a nutshell. It is an emblem of why the right always wins, despite deserving a loss, and why the so-called center-left always loses, despite holding all the cards in its hands. The so-called anti-Netanyahu bloc lacks a leader who even comes close to Netanyahu in terms of abilities, experience, stature, resoluteness, deviousness, brutality or guts to fight any law, regime or state that stands in his way. The left is bereft of ministers, parliamentarians or party activists with total dedication to staying in power and with a deep-seated fear and loathing of the other side.

The center-left is facing what could arguably be described as the greatest internal threat to Israeli democracy ‒ it is divided, despondent, defeated and despaired. It is easy to pin the blame on Benny Gantz, who bolted to Netanyahu’s side and quickly morphed into a floor mat, but the impotence of Israel’s pro-democracy camp started long ago. The center-left has no acknowledged leader, no unified leadership behind them and no coherent ideology besides contempt for Netanyahu, not even on the issue of Palestinians and the occupation.

Center-left voters are not propelled by long-held resentments or grievances about past discrimination, are not incited to hate the right wing and don’t feel themselves warriors in a culture war. They are not as enraged or inflamed as right wing voters and thus less willing to volunteer their own services for the greater cause. A large chunk ‒ up to 40 percent in some left-leaning Tel Aviv polling booths ‒ didn’t even bother to vote in the last elections.

This, of course, is no way to fight a war, certainly not one described as existential. Without a charismatic leader, legions of followers, thousands of volunteers, a knife between their teeth and readiness to fight the right by its own dirty rules, the campaign might already be lost. The founder of the right-wing Revisionist movement and godfather of Netanyahu’s Likud Ze'ev Jabotinsky observed almost a century ago that the left had lost its “anger and bitterness.” Unless these are found, and soon, Netanyahu and his band of ludicrously masked toadies will be posing for victory photos from here to eternity.

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