Opinion

Netanyahu the 5th Has Already Begun to Rewrite History

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates his victory in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

There's no winner quite like a sore winner. And there's no sore winner quite like Benjamin Netanyahu.

Stated differently, there is only one Benjamin Netanyahu who is more vindictive, more actively disingenuous, more whiningly, plaintively certain of his being unjustly victimized, than a Benjamin Netanyahu who has just lost an election:

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You guessed it. It's the Benjamin Netanyahu who's just won.

>> Read more: If Netanyahu survives, it's time we admit it - Israel has become a dictatorship ■ Netanyahu's incitement against Arabs in 2015 proved a big success in Israel's 2019 election ■ 12 takeaways from Israel's looniest election that Netanyahu just won. Or is it Gantz?

Even at his pinnacle of triumph, during his victory speech in the early hours of Wednesday, he couldn't resist casting himself as a martyr of mythic proportions. 

He prevailed, he announced, in the face of the hostility of the media and under impossible conditions.

This is also the Benjamin Netanyahu who is obsessed with history, and his place in it. In a blitz of campaign interviews just before the election, the most prominent photograph on his office wall was that of the late father he idolizes to this day, Benzion Netanyahu - historian, iconoclast, and activist of the Revisionist Zionist movement, forerunner of Likud.

This is the Benjamin Netanyahu who practices revisionist history as no one else, as in 2015, when, hoping to blacken the Palestinian national movement in the eyes of the world, sparked outrage by claiming, falsely, that Hitler did not intend to exterminate the Jews, but was convinced to do so by the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

And if there were any one thing that this election was about, beside the obvious – that is, desperately finding a way to keep the prime minister out of Maasiyahu Prison over graft allegations – it was to secure Netanyahu's legacy, to mold it in the public mind, to burnish it, and, in an astonishing number of ways, to rewrite it.

In particular, the history of Israel itself.

In the week before the election alone:

- Broadcasting live Monday on his Facebook page, Netanyahu declared that views of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were to the right of the late virulently racist anti-Arab rabbi Meir Kahane and of Kahane disciple and Knesset candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Netanyahu – who pushed intensively for the rightist Bayit Hayehudi party to accept  extreme Kahanist candidates on its Knesset list, in order to boost the prime minister's chances of avoiding prosecution through immunity legislation - went on to say that the Rabin government's Oslo agreements "brought the worst murders here, brought them into Judea and Samaria, and we got a disaster.”

In 1995, then-Likud opposition leader Netanyahu took part in the incitement campaign which led to Rabin's assassination. Prior to the murder, Ben-Gvir displayed a hood emblem stolen from the Cadillac used by Rabin, and told reporters "We got to his car and we'll get to him too."

- Netanyahu last week hosted Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

In an apparent extension of Netanyahu's blistering electoral campaign against "dangerous leftists," Bolsonaro followed a high-profile visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial by stating publically that "there is no doubt" that Nazism is a leftist movement.

Netanyahu was happy to let the comment stand.

- Meanwhile, in a pre-election interview blitz, Netanyahu crowed that the last decade under his leadership was hands-down "the best period in Israel's history" despite two wars, an economy whose growth is declining at a worrisome rate,a severe, Netanyahu-fomented crisis in relations with world Jewry, and collapsing systems of hospital care, education, and public transportation.

From the moment Netanyahu called early elections to seek a fifth term in office, objective, verifiable truth has gone directly out his office window.

And he's had plenty of help.

There was, for example, his younger brother Iddo Netanyahu, a physician and playwright – and, just in time for the election, revisionist historian - who divides his time between Israel and Upstate New York. In the influential pre-election Yedioth Ahronoth weekend edition, Iddo Netanyahu wrote an opinion piece laying out his case for voting for his brother and the rightist camp he leads.

Pointedly distorting the role of socialist-oriented parties in founding and building Israel, he writes that in its years in power, the left "forced a regime of 'equality' on us, succeeding in causing a talented people [the Jews] to deteriorate and turn into an entire public of near beggars."

"Decades would pass," he continues, "before the noose of socialism began to come loose, when the right rose to power and brought us free-market economics, and with it growth, general well-being, and innovation-driven progress, not the [left's] fake 'progress' of propaganda."

The examples are legion. The lies are demonstrable. Still, despite his oft-cited lineage as a son of a historian, he has hewn to a consistent standard for his re-writing of history: Whatever works.

Netanyahu is betting that the lies will in time be accepted as fact, and become his legacy. Yet, if lessons are to be drawn from the life and works of Richard Nixon, to whom Netanyahu is often compared, it is all too possible that, in the end, the centerpiece of Netanyahu's fundamental legacy may be the depth and breadth of his practice of lying.