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Israelis Hate Netanyahu the Despot? Just Ask the Palestinians

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the city of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, Sept. 8, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the city of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, Sept. 8, 2020. Credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool Photo via AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The hatred of Benjamin Netanyahu has been setting new records. He deserves some of it due to his conduct, the corruption charges and his failures, but some of it is exaggerated – hysterical childish outbursts that reflect more on his rivals.

“What sin did we commit to deserve such a heavy punishment?” in the religious spirit of crime and punishment on the eve of Yom Kippur. Another Haaretz colleague, Uri Misgav, has already declared a revolt, the coming of a civil war. He threatens that he and his colleagues will no longer be nice and compares the camp of Netanyahu’s privileged opponents to Israel’s oppressed Black Panthers – Mizrahim – of the ‘70s.

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But the words “despot,” “criminal,” “cruel” and “the end of democracy” roll off the tongue intolerably too easy. is Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus is here.

Netanyahu’s so-called despotism is not despotism. It’s the result of frightened, silent, groveling and surrendering politics in his party, the government and the opposition. Netanyahu has become the sole decision-maker, almost a solitary ruler, but the one to blame is the system that allows this to happen.

In there’s no choice. In Israel there’s no courage. When someone comes forward who is capable of standing up to Netanyahu, he will fall and Israel will resume being a lovely democracy in its own eyes. But the response to the minor despotic steps Netanyahu has taken should have taught Israelis an entirely different lesson.

When the first steps were taken against , Israelis got their first taste of roadblocks, lockdowns, restrictions on movement, home invasions, mass unemployment and fear of the unknown. It was a savory sample of life under occupation, which has been the Palestinians’ routine for at least three generations.

Now comes the second stage, the stage of hatred toward the person responsible for it, Netanyahu. They are tasting the taste of hatred toward the one they see as the despot who has taken control of their lives against their will. This hatred also leads to another stage, the threat of violent revolt.

It’s true that currently this is nothing but a pathetic, absurd, empty threat with no chance of being carried out – the Israeli left is too spoiled to launch a civil war and its distress isn’t severe enough for it to seek any change. The fact that people are talking about a revolt should remind Israelis of something, but they don’t see it.

All despotism stirs hatred. When it continues it stirs . Cruel and violent resistance tends to rise up against violent and cruel despotism. That’s legitimate.

Israeli protesters lift placards during an anti-government demonstration in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2020. Credit: Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

Netanyahu’s supposed despotism is of course soft as velvet compared to the despotism exercised in the occupied territories. The steps taken against Israelis during the coronavirus crisis are nonviolent and limited in time and substance. They’re justified and imposed legally by elected officials chosen by Israelis in free elections. None of this is the case in the territories.

The measures there are immeasurably more totalitarian and cruel; they are violent, not temporary but eternal, have no justification and are illegal. Above all, they are imposed by a foreign government and military that have very forcefully seized control of another people.

Now you can understand the motives for the hatred, resistance, sacrifice, courage and willingness to take cruel and violent steps against Israel. If Netanyahu stirs such hatred here, imagine what hatred Israel stokes for doing what it does to the Palestinians.

If, nearly legitimately, the camp fighting Netanyahu is talking about a revolt, imagine how legitimate is, that which we call terrorism, against a despotic regime, an illegal one that has gone on for decades.

When Netanyahu’s opponents call him a despot and talk about the destruction of democracy, they should take a look at the West Bank and Gaza. Maybe now more Israelis will begin to understand the understandable, inevitable and to our horror legitimate and justified violent resistance of the Palestinians. That’s how it is when you’re up against criminal despotism.