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Israel's Lovesick Leader

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Prime Minister Netanyahu touring south Tel Aviv and meeting with residents on Thursday, August 31, 2017.
Prime Minister Netanyahu touring south Tel Aviv and meeting with residents on Thursday, August 31, 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod

As he did in his speech at the rally organized for him last month by coalition chairman David Bitan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Likud gathering held Wednesday for Rosh Hashana, dulled the senses of his fans with fake intimacy and even gave them a show of emotion. “I love you,” he shouted to them. No more and no less. As if he were Salvador Allende of Chile or Pepe Mujica of Uruguay.

In his speech Netanyahu mentioned Argentina and Latin America, where he’s traveling shortly. Latin leaders express their emotions easily. They can even shed tears of love for their people. But Netanyahu isn’t anything like the Latinos. Netanyahu isn’t the type to say “I love you” to everyone, and it doesn’t seem as if he loves easily. He isn’t known to be an effusive or warm leader, and the loving relationship between him and his voters has never been described as a mutual one. They love him. But does he love them? Never on earth.

So what has happened to the prime minister? Has global warming raised his personal temperature? After 20 years in Likud, has Netanyahu developed some kind of affection for his voters? In any event, is his love sincere?

It’s possible that the intensity of the attacks on him has brought him closer to the people surrounding him. At that moment of truth, when it seems everyone’s against him, they are with him. But it is clear from his statements that it’s more complicated than that. He has discovered South America, i.e., the people, and it seems as if he’s on some kind of democracy trip, almost as if he believes that he’s carrying in his belly the fruit of the Jewish people’s will. On this democracy trip, “elections” do not express the total sum of the wills of the electorate, but are rather the birth of the representative collective will, “the will of the people.”

Outside observers are wrong when they say Netanyahu cannot truly represent the will of his voters because of his biography. (He cannot be the biological father of the voters.) But on Netanyahu’s democracy trip, the democratic process manages to really give birth to the people’s will, and the people, as we know, are not the citizens of the State of Israel but the entire Jewish people. And who in the world today can better represent the biography of the Jewish people than Netanyahu?

“Look how they cover our gatherings,” he told his people. “I saw a television report, a report on our last gathering at the [Tel Aviv] Fairgrounds. How they ridiculed us, how arrogantly they tried to portray us. They don’t just despise us, they despise something much deeper. They essentially despise the people’s choice, they despise the democracy in whose name they speak.” Netanyahu is the body that “they” despise, but his voters are the soul.

And like a rock star who stage dives into the audience and crowd surfs, Netanyahu seems to let the audience carry him on their raised hands and lead him as he lies motionless on his back. The people’s will has seized him and controls his body. What looks from the outside like political fickleness and zigzagging right and left is merely an expression of the collective dilemma of the Jewish people. The decisions aren’t his; he is merely carrying Israel’s historical necessity on his back.

“You are always my top priority,” he asked the crowd to recall. He doesn’t know better than them what’s right, but is completely attentive to the people’s pulse throbbing in his veins. He doesn’t love them, he is them. And if they love him, then what’s left for him to do other than love himself?

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