Netanyahu Borrows a Page From Tyrants to Divert Attention From Trial

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to a Jerusalem health clinic last month.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to a Jerusalem health clinic last month.Credit: Emil Salman
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

To the category of “Worth the Wait” that Netflix uses to tout upcoming new movies, we should add the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will begin on Monday – provided no new deadly coronavirus variant is discovered that requires the courts to be closed.

By sheer coincidence the trial will open the day before Netanyahu is hopping over to the United Arab Emirates for a snap visit of just a few hours. After all, there’s nothing like an international performance in a “red” country to take the edge off reports about the first step in the long journey that could land the prime minister in prison. What better proof could there be of his phenomenal ability to manage the State of Israel and his trial at the same time?

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While parties are being born and breaking up, political heads are rolling daily and new ones pop up in their stead, potential Knesset seats are floating in the wind, opinion polls are going wild, diagrams are being distorted, the economy is evaporating and the rates of infection require a deep understanding of quantum theory, there is only one thing as stable as a foundation stone – Netanyahu as prime minister. He was, he is and he will be.

The only explanation one can give for this supernatural phenomenon is that Netanyahu has managed to fully implement the strategy of tyrants who preceded him: He has planted a new consciousness, which posits that one can live with disaster. Not only can we, but rather we must get used to it as a way of life. You just need to frame it properly.

Thus, for example, the tragedy is not the coronavirus – we know how to deal with that. The prime minister personally arranged to get millions of vaccines, he told us how to distribute them, he ordered us to observe quarantine, wear a mask and even demonstrated how to wipe one’s nose and throw the tissue in the garbage.

The real disaster is the public’s behavior. The public is breaking the law and violating the regulations, demanding to restart the economy, opening Talmud Torah schools, flying to Dubai and now complaining about not being able to return.

Now comes the second stage of building this distorted consciousness. What do they want from the prime minister? To shoot every ultra-Orthodox parent who sends his children to Talmud Torah? To raid every Arab wedding with clubs and gas grenades? Can he force anyone uninterested in the vaccine to get vaccinated? Can he protect citizens who don’t want protection? We’re a democracy; the hands of the government are tied. At best it can decide whether to attack Iran or bomb Gaza to protect Israelis’ security, but protect them from COVID-19? That’s not in the contract between the state and its citizens.

And here’s the last phase of the distortion doctrine: If anyone thinks that another prime minister, one who isn’t charged with crimes and isn’t preoccupied with his trial, can deal more effectively with the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs, the parties by the rich and famous, let’s have a look at him. But you (we) know very well that Netanyahu has no replacement. Don’t even try.

Such a consciousness has preserved the regimes of tyrants for long periods. This feeling of being at a dead end has started to take root in Israel, too, especially since the public protests have started to die out and Benny Gantz’s vote theft crushed all hope and faith in an alternative.

Even worse, the deep frustration is intensifying the fear of change. Maybe there really isn’t anyone else who can get Pfizer’s CEO on the phone? Who will bring us peace with Arab countries and who will present an economic plan that will pull the country out of the crisis and put the unemployed back to work?

Suddenly Netanyahu looks like the lesser evil, and given today’s circumstances that’s quite a lot. But it’s not enough. If he’s the one and only, then we mustn’t let the court take him from us. We need him now more than ever. That’s how you frame a disaster.

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