On those few occasions when Israel's prime minister speaks without reading a prepared text from a teleprompter, people get a rare peek at the depths of his mind. Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen managed last week to find and open the door to Benjamin Netanyahu’s secret inner world. A real Kahol Lavan version of Ali Baba.
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All Cohen did was ask why were there no women in the new coronavirus cabinet. Imagine her surprise when she realized that the magic key had fallen into her hands, the “open sesame” to the gate of Netanyahu’s mind. “When I travel at night and there’s a red light, I don’t always think that it’s logical, but that’s the way it is,” he replied.
The first thing that popped into my head when I tried to understand the meaning of the association between a woman and a red traffic light at night is that Netanyahu had confused a red light with menstruation, as the words sound similar in Hebrew. I thought about niddah – the impure woman – about his attitude toward women. About his wife, his mother, his daughter, other women. I thought about emasculation.
But while I was trying to get to the bottom of it, an entire movie scene flashed before my eyes. I saw him driving a Cadillac convertible, top down, at night, alone, on some interstate highway in the United States, his hair blowing in the wind, a cigarette in his mouth, asking himself: “Why should I actually stop at a red light?” Suddenly it became clear that Netanyahu had crossed the point of no return. He can’t stop. Not at a red light, not for a traffic cop, and certainly not for the feds who are closing in on him.
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It’s not clear whether this is the real him or a virtual profile that has taken over, but anyone following his latest appearances and posts can understand that there’s no way back from the depths to which he has fallen. His brakes have failed. The question of how this will end is still open: He’ll either run out of gas or fall asleep at the wheel, veer off the road, crash into a passing truck, jump into the “grand canyon” or into the hands of the law.
Two days later, in response to the assault on the protesters in Tel Aviv, he demanded “the same response” to assaults on protesters as that given to “threats of murder – outright and implied – against me and my family, including the shameful threat of crucifixion today in Tel Aviv.” That’s the way Netanyahu responded to the installation at the protest in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, in which he is depicted at a food-laden table, under the heading “the Last Supper.”
He and his associates on the right have been talking for a long time now about the dangers to his life. And suddenly, I thought, perhaps more than real fear, deep longing has surfaced on the right, almost unconsciously, for a tragic, dramatic ending. First of all, it would create the symmetry they have dreamed of since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, between the violence on the right and on the left. The right would be able to achieve a moral balance with the left, to free itself of the historical guilt, to turn over a new, “clean” leaf.
Secondly, the right has no real way to pull free of Netanyahu, either. Maybe they’re too weak, too loyal, too obedient. Moreover, logic tells them that were he to be toppled by the entire government, their power would be handed to the left, to “the elites,” and they’ll never voluntarily do this, and rightfully so, as they see it.
But in their hearts they certainly understand – even those who love him – that they’re sitting in a car with no brakes. And suddenly “the shameful threat of crucifixion” against which he sought to warn, sounded more like a manifestation of his secret fantasy, a literary solution: to bid farewell to his earthly body and return as a symbol, a martyr, a biblical hero forever and ever.