When the relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel finally comes to an end, there may be a sense of confusion at first. After so many years in which he pervaded life in Israel, it won’t be easy for the country to think of itself without his image to refract it through.
It won’t be easy for the right and left to move back along the tracks of history. It won’t be easy to free ourselves of the conceptions he trapped Israel in and prevented it from getting anywhere. It won’t be easy to go back to discussing subjects other than Netanyahu. But not only is it possible, sooner or later Israel will have no choice but to do so.
“Remember Franco,” a Facebook friend wrote to me a while ago when I expressed to him my confidence in the future and wrote, “The good guys will win in the end!” “Or not,” he replied, referring to the Spanish tyrant. “In the end,” I repeated with a smile.
No matter what Netanyahu’s political fate, sooner or later his time in power will end. This banal detail must be borne in mind by all those who feel they can no longer imagine a world without Netanyahu. Well, start getting used to the idea.
Incredibly, the illusion that “there’s no alternative to Netanyahu” (fostered by the right, naturally) is supported by the left, too. Some of its key spokespeople go around saying how they fear that the alternative – which they assume will come from the right – will be even worse. These fears are usually accompanied by doomsday prophecies along the lines of “believe it or not, we’ll miss him.”
The illusion that there’s no alternative to Netanyahu may be one of his biggest achievements. It’s not just a natural consequence of the duration of his tenure, it has been a deliberate aim by him. Netanyahu is like a psychologist who unscrupulously uses the patient’s pain to drag out the therapy and create an addiction to it.
But those who fear an alternative are blind to the extent of the damage that Netanyahu has caused to Israeli society and world Jewry. They are blind to the fact that Netanyahu has led a counterreaction to the Israeli story. His time in power remains an ongoing attempt to undermine Israeli-ness.
The price is being paid not just by Israel, which is caught in an identity crisis, but also by Diaspora Jewry, especially American Jewry, which is breaking up with Israel, as Jonathan Weisman described so well in The New York Times early this month. Netanyahu is responsible for Israel’s historical disconnect from the context of its establishment, and from the Israeli-Arab conflict. He’s responsible for dragging Israel into a meta-historical, nearly theological discussion in which arguments in a virtual courtroom have replaced historical action.
Don’t confuse the right with Netanyahu. The Netanyahu phenomenon, “Bibi-ism,” isn’t a synonym for right-wing politics, just as Trumpism doesn’t represent the Republican Party. Bibi-ism can’t exist without Netanyahu, and it will disappear with him. The reason Bibi-ism will disappear with Bibi is that it requires a personality completely devoid of inhibitions to keep society in a constant state of dramatic tension with itself.
The cynicism that let him perpetrate his psycho-national fraud is of such colossal depths that it’s not just the nation but he himself who’s suffering an identity crisis. No Israeli public figure shows the kind of cynicism and ability to totally bend society to his conception and will that Netanyahu does.
To be fearful of Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett or Gideon Sa’ar, let alone Yair Lapid, is to belittle the destructive power of Netanyahu’s personality, which has gnawed away at the country and our society so much that it has become almost unrecognizable.
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