The Myth of Netanyahu, the Man of Peace

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Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters in Jerusalem in March.
Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters in Jerusalem in March.Credit: Ariel Schalit / AP

For a few years now a baseless myth has been making the rounds, according to which Benjamin Netanyahu is not a warmonger. “[He] is one of the most pacifist prime ministers we’ve ever had, with a balance sheet of just one initiated war in his dozen years in power.” This was written about him on these pages in November 2018, a few months after hundreds of Gazans were killed and wounded by Israeli military snipers at the Gaza Strip border fence.

A real man of peace. According to the myth, with the exception of one terrible war – Operation Protective Edge, which ended with the horrific killing of thousands of civilians and the destruction of the Gaza Strip – Netanyahu prevented wars, his responses are measured, and his foot is always on the brake. A cautious driver, he maintains a safe following distance, always signals before a turn, stays in his lane, doesn’t curse and doesn’t cut off other vehicles.

This myth is always accompanied by warnings and threats. If Netanyahu goes, there will be war. If a government is formed without him – a government of change that is not change, is not left and is not center, but rather extreme right – it will not have anyone who can apply the brakes. It will be a government that supports apartheid, a government that will want to prove that it’s not left-wing, they warn. In other words, at best it will be no less right-wing than a Netanyahu government. In the worst, most likely, case, it will be a government of war.

In the face of this danger, so goes the myth, all of Netanyahu’s shortcomings, his criminality, his corruption, his racism and his lies are a drop in the ocean. Like accountants who work to straighten out the books before a tax audit, Netanyahu’s admirers gather up his contributions to the Israeli people – the vaccinations, the legitimization of the Arabs as political partners and the peace agreements with a few Arab states – to offset the enormous damage he has done.

The problem is that the accounts don’t balance out for some reason. The failed war in Gaza in 2014 cannot be swept under the rug of history and seen as a one-time failure. This trickery is baseless: Netanyahu is waging a relentless, violent war against the population whose great suffering we hear about precisely from his new admirers. The warfare against the protesters in the so-called marches of return at the Gaza border fence, who were killed by the hundreds; the nighttime raids on the homes of civilians; the support and encouragement of the settlers robbing Palestinians of their lands; the threats of annexation; the savage takeover of the Temple Mount and now the “forceful response” to the rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip after the firing of rockets – to his new fans all of these things, so it would seem, are not war.

During Netanyahu’s time in power, the Israel Defense Forces invented the term “the battle between the wars” – as if it’s a long coffee break that began with the departure of a previous, combative government and will end, perish the thought, when Netanyahu is no longer prime minister. But this in-between battle is a war in every sense of the word. It involves the killing of civilians; strikes in Syria and Iran that verge on confrontations; clashes with Washington; a threatening rift with Jordan; dense, toxic racist incitement against the Arab citizens of Israel; the cruel suffocation of some 2 million Gazans and the firing of rockets into Israel.

And wonder of wonders, all of this, say these street-corner prophets, can be fixed – it’s trivial, certainly not war. Just give the myth one more term, and see how he withdraws from the territories, officially changes his name to Abu Yair, opens his home not only to United Arab List Chairman Mansour Abbas but also to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, builds a seaport and an airport in Gaza and asks to join the nuclear agreement with Iran. And isn’t his foot always on the brakes? Even a used-car salesman wouldn’t use such a technique.

Netanyahu is not a lesser evil that should remain in power in order to prevent an extreme-right government – he is the archetype of an extreme-right government. He won’t prevent war, because the war is already happening. Netanyahu must go immediately because he is the one who is responsible for Israel’s moral, constitutional and political bankruptcy. And that’s no myth.

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