Opinion

In Israel's Next Election, Things Will Go From Bad to Worse

A million people need an election to declare that decency is no advantage and corruption is no disadvantage. Netanyahu knows that 40 years of indoctrination have done their job

Protests against corruption in Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Blvd., December 23, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

The next upheaval will take place in the next general election. It won’t be an upheaval that determines who will be in the government, it will be a sea change that determines what kind of government we will have. This isn’t a question, it’s a statement. It will be a government the likes of which we haven’t known. A post-upheaval government.

The Israel after the election won’t be like the Israel before it. The next election will legalize everything we are ashamed of today, an outcome that will be stamped with “the people’s will.” The issues will transform radically: no Palestinians, no budgets, no refugees, no settlers. The question will be if a corrupt candidate can lead the government.

There’s no suspense; we’ve received the temporary answer in the opinion polls, and the final seal will be stamped in the actual vote. A million people need an election to declare that decency is no advantage and corruption is no disadvantage.

And this is before Benjamin Netanyahu has been acquitted or convicted. A million people? Thirty Knesset seats? I ask myself, where are these people? How come I don’t see them when I open Facebook, or on television, or in the newspapers?

This million troubles me more than what will or won’t happen to Bibi. Bibi will go, the million will remain. My surprise surprises me each time anew. But I understand where it comes from. I don’t see them because I’m afraid to. I pull my blanket over my head and hope they’re only a bad dream, that these are only opinion polls, that everything could still change.

But I know we’re talking about Bibi because we’re afraid to talk about these people. A million isn’t just a number; I have no idea who they are and what their reasons are to support the prime minister. The only argument I know from the internet trolls is “there’s nothing you can do, Bibi is the king forever and ever.”

It’s difficult for me with this million; I’m a small country surrounded by enemies. The million from today’s opinion polls will lead the government tomorrow. After the election the government will go from leader to led, from chief to servant, from controlling the million to being controlled by it – a government that’s grateful to the nationalist, religious Mizrahim who forgave its crimes and is hostile to secular bourgeois Ashkenazim who oppose them.

We didn’t become such a country all at once. The upheaval is the culmination of a process that began in 1977 when Likud first won an election. It doesn’t matter when it takes place and who wins, but in the next election underground currents will burst out, currents that will bring up to the surface a more religious, more nationalist, less tolerant society.

It won’t come as a surprise. You can’t say we haven’t been clued in or that we weren’t prepared. They appeared slowly but surely, slowly but persistently. First the grocery stores on Shabbat, then the refugees, always the settlers and ultimately yeshivas and ultra-Orthodox students. All this has been injected into the system slowly for years. The country is changing direction in a slow, circular motion like a large ship. The bow turns first, then the rest. The change is hard to detect; the first who sees it wins, the last loses.

It has happened in journalism. A newspaper must be attentive to changes in society. Look what happened to Maariv. It was the leading paper. It didn’t detect the changes of the ‘70s, and Yedioth Ahronoth overtook it not because its readers adjusted to Yedioth, but because Yedioth adjusted to them.

The million Bibi supporters surprised me, but not him. He adjusts to them. He knows that 40 years of indoctrination have done their job. A million people I don’t know are convinced that everything is fake news, that there’s no falsehood or truth, no guilt or innocence, that bribery is a political, not a criminal procedure, and that everything is one hot mess.

The 1977 revolution will be completed in the next election. The lesson has been learned. Corruption is no longer an obstacle in politics. Someone was in jail? He paid his debt to society.

Corruption is a powerful engine. After the election it will lead the government everywhere – to the courts, the prosecutor’s office, culture and the arts. They’ll call it “governance.” This will put an end to the dream of Israel as a villa in a jungle.

We haven’t been able to be a Western country in the heart of a hostile East. We tried and failed. We compromised on a Middle Eastern country and succeeded. But we’re a Middle Eastern country that hates the Middle East because it can’t take the Middle East out of itself.