Israeli Protesters Are Playing a Dangerous 'Just Not Bibi' Game

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A protester dressed up as Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, August 5, 2020.
A protester dressed up as Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, August 5, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The right wing owes a lot to the left-wing protest. The protest legitimizes the right, whitewashes its crimes, consolidates its control and gives it the legitimization it never had.

This is how things are when a protest focuses only on the fate of one person, with the goal being “just not Bibi.” Such an effort turns the real rival, the right, into its twin, almost yearning, as long as it excludes Benjamin Netanyahu. Anything that isn’t Bibi is a dream. Anyone who isn’t him is a redeemer.

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Let’s just get rid of him and all will be well. This is a dangerous approach. It will end with the perpetuation of right-wing rule, leaving its ideology as the only one out there.

Haaretz’s editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn, put it well in his op-ed Friday. He reminded everyone celebrating prematurely that even when Netanyahu is gone, his supporters will still be here. His warning warrants an asterisk: Look at what’s happening in the meantime. The revulsion felt toward Netanyahu is legitimizing anything that isn’t him.

All of a sudden, the appointment of Gilad Erdan and Tzipi Hotovely as ambassadors are a loss to Israeli politics. “Erdan, one of Likud’s more respectable faces,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter put it Friday, using a word that can also be translated as statesmanlike. Erdan? Statesmanlike? Will he have to do given the rest of the field?

Erdan, the leader of a dirty war against critics of Israel around the globe, is statesmanlike? He was the public security minister who falsely accused an innocent Bedouin citizen who was killed for no reason by the police, an agency he was in charge of. And Erdan never bothered to apologize.

He was the minister who spearheaded the ugly policy of criminalizing any criticism of the occupation, based on massive funding, undercover and other questionable efforts, only some of which have been exposed so far. And now he’s considered not only legitimate but statesmanlike. If Erdan is statesmanlike, who isn’t? A minister who does the shooting himself?

Then there’s Hotovely. How can an ultranationalist politician’s posting in London be considered a loss to the Israeli political scene? It seems the fact that these two were less obsequious to Netanyahu has made them symbols of statesmanlike politics.

Gideon Sa’ar is another object of center-left aspirations. He’s one of the most extremist, racist and dangerous politicians on the right. He was the one who set up the Holot detention center and in tandem proposed an “anti-infiltration” law and pursued a harsh policy of hunting down asylum seekers.

He’s now considered legitimate by a camp pretending to be left-wing. Sa’ar should be forever disqualified by any person of conscience, but not when facing him is the devil incarnate, Netanyahu. In contrast to Bibi, anything goes, all the rest are good.

And then of course there’s Naftali Bennett, the current apple of the left’s eye, now flourishing in the opinion polls. A comeback by Ayelet Shaked, another former darling of the left, is also on its way.

Let them be racists and ultranationalists, as long as they’re not Netanyahu. The enemies of my enemy are my friends, no matter what they represent. That’s how it is when there’s burning and blind hatred.

These people will continue to harm the courts, persecute asylum seekers, support swinish capitalism, incite against Israel’s Arab citizens and consolidate apartheid. They will be forgiven everything. Bibi destroyed things and Bennett will build; Netanyahu spread poison and Erdan, Sa’ar and Hotovely will usher in brotherly love.

Let there be 50 more years of occupation, let the policy of discrimination and humiliation of Arab citizens and the persecution of asylum seekers continue, let the army continue killing Palestinian demonstrators, and let the police continue using violence and the disabled continue receiving pitiful benefits. The main thing is to get rid of Netanyahu.

In the end there will be no Netanyahu. Relief, joy and satisfaction will wash over the left and the courts and the rest of the threatened institutions. Israel will see the dawn of a new day.

And then his successor will be appointed, someone right-wing, obviously, and the camp, dizzy with success and exhausted from its protest, will find itself neutralized. This is how things are when the wagon is empty and no alternative is being offered.

Then Sa’ar, Bennett or someone else from the right can pass laws in the style of Victor Orban or Jair Bolsonaro, unimpeded. After all, the danger will have passed, victory will be achieved – the demon will be no more.