Opinion

Netanyahu’s Virtual Reality Provides Consistent Alibis for Policy Failures and Personal Failings

All-encompassing conspiracy theories combat awareness that something is rotten in Bibi’s Kingdom

Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 7, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

Benjamin Netanyahu received “gifts” worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and, judging by leaks from the investigation, from other tycoons as well. He negotiated with a major publisher - whom he portrayed in public as the devil incarnate - about intervening in the newspaper market in exchange for positive coverage. In the German submarine affair, best-case scenario, Netanyahu enabled his confidantes to exploit their proximity to power to make millions off national security needs. In the probe of possible corruption in the government supervision of telecommunications giant Bezeq, all roads seem to lead to the Prime Minister’s Office

Never mind the unreasonable proportion of Netanyahu’s aides and advisers who have run afoul of the law or the never-ending torrent of scandals and legal suits surrounding his wife Sarah. The stench is overwhelming, even without indictments.

A generous assessment could stipulate that Netanyahu’s lengthy stay in power has blurred the boundaries between right and wrong, between the private and the public. A less generous analysis would point out that Netanyahu is a recidivist offender. His questionable behavior was all too apparent during his first term in office from his frequent brush-ins with the law over suspected corruption and alleged obstruction of justice. In many democratic states, any one of Netanyahu’s scandals would spark a party revolt and possibly end his tenure, but Israel isn’t one of them. 

Despite his record, Netanyahu was elected time and again as Likud leader and prime minister. For his ardent base, Bibi is King of Israel more than ever.

The current situation, however, is nonetheless inconvenient for Likud leaders and voters. The endless media reports about the investigations and scandals involving Netanyahu prod their memories and threaten to resurface the truths their minds have repressed. They are being forced to remember that something is rotten in the Netanyahu kingdom. To neutralize this biting reality, Netanyahu and his assistants pull out its teeth. Instead of the facts as we know them, they are concocting a virtual reality of their own.

In their world, Netanyahu’s actions are catalogued as human weakness, wild exaggerations, despicable lies or simply noblesse oblige. His shortcomings, regrettable as they are, are only an excuse for the worldwide conspiracy that’s out to get him. Whoever puts Netanyahu at risk, be it investigating journalists, probing police investigators, evaluating state attorneys or deciding judges, is automatically enrolled in the Protocols of the Elders of the Left, from Barack Obama through George Soros to the New Israel Fund, who want to depose Netanyahu and thus defeat Israel. In this way, Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid prosecution are integrated with the eternal war between right and left and the existential battle for the Land of Israel.

“What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part,” Hannah Arendt wrote about the propaganda of totalitarian movements on their way to power.“ A lying world of consistency is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself,” she noted. 

Netanyahu provides his followers with a consistent, catch-all alibi that is good for his own exoneration, for the lack of peace with the Palestinians, even for claiming “the Arabs are coming to vote in buses” on election day. He orders his men and women down into the virtual bunker in which they are engaged in an eternal war against leftists, evildoers and anti-Semites, in which all is fair and the rules don’t apply.

The bad news from Arendt is that once in power, totalitarian leaders try to impose their virtual world on resistant reality, until disaster comes. The good news is that once the virtual world is destroyed - in our case, by revelations, exposes and convincing indictments - the hitherto loyal members of totalitarian movements “cease at once to believe in the dogma for which yesterday they still were ready to sacrifice their lives.”