Israel's Right Clings to Conspiracies Again

Israeli citizens, not the New Israel Fund, are rallying for the PM’s indictment, while police and prosecutors, not the media, are leading the criminal investigations against him

File photo: Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, left, stands with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

During the social protest in August 2011, when small tents covered the boulevards in Tel Aviv, one of the Likud leaders tried to prove to me that this was an organized conspiracy of the left and the New Israel Fund. Because I was there from the first evening, I told him that was a lie. Not only was the left not a partner, it was as surprised as everyone else, and parts of it even kept their distance from the protest – which turned out to be a fatal mistake: of the left and the protest.

In that case, he said, how come all the tents are identical? I was amazed. They’re not identical at all, people brought a tent and a floor mat from home, I explained. In vain. The man, who didn’t set foot in the encampments, held on to the conspiracy theory that had filtered down from the top: I saw on television, he claimed passionately – all the tents are uniform, green and gray … it’s clear that someone distributed them.

Now it’s become official. “A New Israel Fund demonstration,” the Likud announcement said explicitly, after the demonstration in Petah Tikva. The NIF is an excellent organization. In my opinion it deserves the Israel Prize. But these demonstrations are spontaneous, despite all the obstacles and pressure, just like that other protest – witness the black and blue marks on the body of social activist Daphni Leef, like the broken hand of former Netanyahu employee Meni Naftali. The protest comes from below, and that’s what infuriates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s why they’re once again finding a refuge in conspiracy theories.

Netanyahu, who yearns to be U.S. President Donald Trump, presented a list of media outlets that he accuses of persecuting him, under the heading “Fake news.” That may be an escalation in the prime minister’s obsession with the media, but in Trumpian terms it’s a pale imitation. If Netanyahu wants to be Trump, let him go all the way. Trump has devised a simple test: Any negative report about him, no matter where, is a lie, “fake news” – only the positive reports are true.

Netanyahu claims he was a victim of a lynching. As opposed to the ignorant Trump, Netanyahu is a knowledgeable man. He knows that a lynching is organized group violence, lacking any legal basis, and always directed at minorities, foreigners, “others” – vulnerable, helpless people. In the century and a half since the emancipation of the slaves in the United States, 5,000 people have been murdered in documented acts of lynching. Two thirds of them were black. An unknown number, probably tens of thousands, were beaten, looted, humiliated in innumerable unrecorded acts of lynching. In other parts of the world it was called a “pogrom.” No, Bibi, what is happening here is not a lynching.

The most common claim emerging from the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street is that a government is not replaced with headlines and investigations, but only at the polls. But “the left,” which is also “the media,” failed at the polls, and is therefore trying to “bring down” Netanyahu – in other words, engaging in subversion. That is incitement. The police, the prosecutors, the state comptroller, the journalists and the former employees at his official residence didn’t come into the world to drink his blood. The investigations were not started to “bring him down.” In effect, the last thing that they like in the police force and the State Prosecutor’s Office are investigations of this kind: They are sensitive and complicated, and mainly create a heavy workload and tremendous pressure – in other words, a major headache.

Anyone who has ever come to one of these organizations with information about senior officials is very familiar with the reaction of hesitation, suspicion and rejection of the hot potato. The media isn’t crazy about it either. For the most part the Israeli media has neither the capability nor much desire to do such research, which is expensive and accompanied by lawsuits and intolerable pressure. If there are investigations and research, they certainly don’t stem from the system’s great enthusiasm for investigating, but on the contrary: It’s a kind of miracle that they happen at all.

The following words are self evident, but as Menachem Begin said – even what is self evident should be stated occasionally: Winning an election does not grant absolute rule or immunity from investigations. Netanyahu made that clear when he was opposition leader. Now he himself is holding on to the horns of government and presenting the investigations and the criticism as subversion. Democracy does not end at the polls. It’s a daily test, and Netanyahu is failing it.