Opinion

Pursued by the Law, Netanyahu Sparks Revival of Right-wing Lunacy

A Likud MK’s demented analogy with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin nonetheless hits a raw nerve

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

The immediate reaction to the analogy drawn by Likud Member of Knesset Miki Zohar between the troubles of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is ridicule and scorn. Why stop with Rabin? What about Bar-Kochba? Jeanne D’Arc? Jesus Christ? The six million, perhaps? Then comes consternation. How low must we have sunk, if an elected official can’t differentiate between a prime minister who was murdered for his positions and another who is being investigated for his transgressions?

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Nonetheless, Zohar put his finger on the right spot. His own words prove it. He is not a deviation from the norm or an exception that proves the rule. His sicko comparison between Netanyahu and Rabin - as well as the new reports about the efforts made by Netanyahu’s aide to appoint an attorney general who would exonerate the prime minister’s wife - are but symptoms of a general mental breakdown on the right. It’s a global phenomenon, of course, with deep-seated historical and sociological roots, which has accelerated with the presidency of Donald Trump, who disseminates inanities throughout the globe. In the local Israeli edition, however, the willingness of so many on the right to break the rules, buck the system, defy the state and blindly follow Netanyahu, one of Israel’s most charismatic politicians, cannot but evoke ominous associations from the past.

MK Miki Zohar (Likud)
Olivier Fitoussi

The situation was insane from the outset, even before the police began to investigate.  The well-documented compulsion of Netanyahu and his wife to live the good life at the expense of billionaires is a sickness in itself. Their obsession with what the media says about them has long gone beyond the rational. In any normal country, Netanyahu’s decision in late 2014 to topple his own government in order to protect Sheldon’s Adelson’s Yisrael Hayom newspaper, to which he has now fessed up, would be considered totally unhinged. Netanyahu’s amok to pervert Israeli media and to control it - along with his coalition’s astounding silence of the chickens that has greeted it - are all indications of a government that is going off the rails.

Netanyahu’s implication in criminal investigations is the trigger that has caused serious deterioration. Like Trump - his great friend, partner in probes and sometimes role model - Netanyahu has launched an irresponsible assault on the Israeli police. He depicts himself, outrageously, as the innocent victim of a dark conspiracy, whose agents are out to destroy him. Whether his paranoia is as genuinely acute as it seems or just a cynical manipulation, ever-growing parts of the Israeli right, from top to bottom, are getting sucked into the whirlwind of Netanyahu’s lurid fantasies. They are increasingly convinced that the state itself is his enemy, and thus, by extension, their own.

The factual similarities to the time of Rabin’s assassination are slim. Then, the future of Israel was at stake, here we’re dealing with expensive champagne and Cuban cigars. There, devout Jewish settlers served as Netanyahu’s storm troopers, now he has to make do, for the time being at least, with opportunists and sycophants who flow with his frenzy, along with die-hard Bibi fans who nonetheless have to be prodded to participate in the support rallies that the Likud organizes from time to time. On the other hand, then as now, the pivotal main actor is a talented orator like Netanyahu, acknowledged expert on incitement and genius grandmaster of demagoguery, who has already shown his lack of inhibitions in the pursuit of power, who continues to ignore warnings about the dangerous influence of his words, who fiddles with the public’s frustrations and preys on its fears and stirs up evil winds with no regard for who or what they could ignite.

The madness might not suffice to save Netanyahu himself, but it could very well erupt and engulf his successor. In the demented Bizarro world of right-wing politicians like Zohar, Netanyahu’s replacement could find himself pilloried as another Yigal Amir, the only person, so far, who truly murdered a prime minister.