The Prime Minister of Despair

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to attend a conference in Jerusalem, January 8, 2020.

Despair. Gideon Levy took the words right out of my mouth. Not from my mouth but from my gut. Despair and, along with it, recognition of the terrifying truth that “we have nowhere else to go,” in the words of David Avidan whom Levy quoted.

My father was born in Argentina a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sometimes during our chats, he asks me to try and imagine what his mother felt when he was born. Try thinking what it means to be a young Argentinean woman of few means, who brings a Jewish baby into the world at the height of catastrophe in Europe, exactly a week after its tentacles reach the continent.

What was her feeling in the world, my father wonders out of fatherly worry for his young mother. My father transmitted his retroactive concern for my young grandmother to me, and lately I have asked myself if my feeling in the world is more secure than hers on the other side of the world and time. And I wonder if the eternal words of Avidan, “we have nowhere else to go,” captures a feeling common to both of us.

These thoughts are usually interrupted by self-reprimand – how I could even dare to compare. However, after shaming myself, the audacious question pops up again, and I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure, for example, if I have greater sense of certainty about the future than my grandmother did in her day. In “The Plague,” Albert Camus writes, “There is no peace without hope.” I really can’t say how much hope is left in the world, and not because of the coronavirus.

This is precisely the role of politics, which has the power to emancipate. Real leaders have the power to infuse hope, especially at moments of uncertainty and crisis. Unfortunately, the crisis catches Israel when it is in the clutches of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has no faith in people or in humanity.

He believes in power and his goal is to survive at any price. He buys time until they invent the coronavirus vaccine, like he bides his time until they develop a vaccine for Islam, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some day he considers requesting that they freeze him until they find a vaccine for death. He denies life and acts as though he is not accountable to anyone, not even God.

Levy’s despair is deeply connected to Netanyahu’s sick leadership. As someone who doesn’t hate him, he contends with his disappointment in him. Although it may not have registered in the public consciousness yet, Netanyahu fared very badly against the coronavirus. All his arrogance and authoritativeness turned out to be hollow. Europe, which Netanyahu likes to disparage, is slowly emerging from the pandemic with its dignity intact, while Israel is trudging behind, the public feeling certain about only one thing — that Israel is headed toward economic disaster.

Strangely, Levy’s opinion piece actually infused me with hope because it reminded me that this despair isn’t necessarily existential. It has a name.

Levy is actually an indefatigable optimist. A spark of light is visible at the beginning of the piece. “The State of Israel actually has somewhere to go,” he declares; it just has no one to go with it. Levy recognizes that the battle isn’t lost, and that the road to victory over despair requires separating Israel from Netanyahu.

We mustn’t forget that Netanyahu is our despair, and despair expresses itself in a feeling that there is no hope for change. The thought that there is no one to replace him is part of the despair. It belongs to the atmosphere that Netanyahu has created. However, the alternative to Netanyahu is here, among us. It must be. Only despair is hiding that alternative.

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