Israeli Prime Minister Bennett Is Channeling John Lennon

Carolina Landsmann
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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his new government, Jerusalem, June 2021.
Carolina Landsmann

Our principle, Naftali Bennett declared in his inaugural address, is this. “(W)e will forge forward on that which we agree – and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side.”

There is something so naïve and childlike about this “principle,” and about the pretension that it is possible to “leave to the side” Israel’s core problems – as if coming to grips with them is a matter of choice rather than necessity – and focus only on “transport, education and so on,” that it is tempting to make Bennett a simple cheese sandwich, tuck a Kinder Surprise Egg in his lunch box, give him a maternal smile and wish him success with his new friends.

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It’s a great principle, we have to give him that, which says a lot about Bennett the person and how he sees the world. Slightly reminiscent of John Lennon. Bennett wants us to imagine a world with no (conflict) borders, no (wars of) religion, only schools and roads. And high-tech, of course. Imagine all the people living for today.

You may say that he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. Yair Lapid, Merav Michaeli, Nitzan Horowitz and Gideon Sa’ar are also dreamers – all of them Tel Avivians – and even the former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, and Avigdor Lieberman – absolutely, why not? – want a drag from the apolitical joint that Bennett rolled. And to think that the left based the danger of Israel’s going fascist and apartheid on this amiable, enthusiastic adolescent. He’s a scout leader. If he’s a fascist, then everyone is a fascist. Wait: So maybe everyone is a fascist?

We’ve all heard the argument that there’s no real difference between the left and the right in Israel, the only difference is one of style. That’s what the extreme left says about the Zionist left. Nor do Palestinians care much about the intra-Zionist differences. I recall the Palestinian prime minister saying a year and a half ago, before the election that was effectively between Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, that the difference between them was “not more than the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola.”

Indeed, the establishment of the new government is a kind of admission by both sides that their political differences are not unbridgeable. But it does not necessarily follow from this that everyone is in effect right-wing. Perhaps everyone is Zionist left?

Netanyahu ruled by creating constant tension between the left and the right, which to a certain extent canceled each other out and enabled him to preserve the status quo. To this day, the hard right views him as a leftist and leftists see him as a right-winger. Who is the real Netanyahu, that of the Bar-Ilan speech, or that of the annexation promises?

The upshot is that the politicians to his left and to his right never had to put their positions to a practical test. Ayelet Shaked was able to craft a cruel expulsion policy for refugees, and Meretz was able to oppose extending the prohibition on family reunification for Palestinians. Neither she nor they determined policy, they only participated in the balance of political terror that Netanyahu maintained.

It’s only a matter of time before reality wakes the government from its childish dream of apolitical politics, but that will not necessarily augur its end. True, without Netanyahu, everyone will be forced to think what they truly think. To figure out their genuine political selves.

We can only hope they will listen to themselves and not rush to adopt “off the rack” positions from the ateliers of the left and the right. Only then will there be an opportunity to progress toward a politics of truth, and perhaps to break through the impasse of which Netanyahu was only an expression. Only then will we discover Israel’s true political color, for better and for worse.

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