They're Not Jews. They're MAGA People. And They Run Israel

I'd be disheartened but for this: I met the one person who should frighten Bibi more than any other in this world

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, January 27, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, January 27, 2019.Credit: Reuters
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

This thing's been weighing on my heart for years. Maybe that's why I couldn't put it into words. I'm really grateful someone else finally did.

It was my Haaretz colleague, Larry Derfner. In a Facebook post Sunday, he wrote,

"The word 'Jewish' has positive connotations for me. I think of warmth, humanity, humility, humor, honesty. When I look at Binyamin Netanyahu's face, at the coldness, contemptuousness and bottomless cynicism in his eyes, I see none of those qualities. There's nothing Jewish there."

And there it is. So profoundly, in so many ways, is Benjamin Netanyahu not a Jew. Neither are many, many of the members of his government. Foul of heart, gutter snide, they have no regard for the teachings of Judaism which forbid shaming, command respect for the non-Jew and the migrant, set out the the ideals of compassion, lovingkindness, universal human rights, charity of spirit and material generosity. Bibi and his close loyalists spit with disgust on the idea that all were created in the image of God - even leftists, Palestinians, journalists.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 14

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They are not Jews – the Oren Hazans, the Miri Regevs, the David Amsalems, the David Bitans, the Bezalel Smotriches, the Ayelet Shakeds. Neither are the nominally religious Kahane wannabes aching to claw their way into the Knesset. Their MAGA values now take absolute precedence over their Jewish values, to the detriment of Jews everywhere. 

They are MAGA people. And they run Israel.

They are MAGA people in the worst sense. They ride the asshole to power. He encourages the worst in them, stokes it, milks it, and profits from it. 

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Lest there be any doubt in my mind as to which side of the Jewish-MAGA divide they fall on, a Sunday drive to Jerusalem removed any doubt. Approach from the west, and it's not the city which welcomes you, but Donald Trump. All eight stories of him, in Stalin-grade living color. Drive a bit closer, and Bibi comes into view beside him, same size, hand in hand with Trump. Above it all: "NETANYAHU. A DIFFERENT LEAGUE."

For once, truth in political advertising. It's absolutely accurate. Netanyahu is in a different league. Not at all the league of the Jewish people. Not at all the league of a country with the values of the Jewish prophets.

It's the league of Netanyahu's friends Viktor Orban in Hungary and Mateusz Morawiecki in Poland and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Donald Trump in Mar-a-Lago. It is the league of enablers and exploiters of Holocaust denial, supremacism, Hitler appreciation, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, scorn for the disabled, and outright anti-Semitism.

It is the league which is fast learning to speak MAGA in a wide variety of world dialects. It is the league which prides itself on cruelty as an ideology. A league which thrives and grows on the principle that the only true "ism" is sadism.

No truly Jewish country would put up with this.

And here's where the irony thickens.

Yes, Bibi retains for himself the title of prime minister not only of Israel, but of the Jewish people as a whole. And yet.

On Bibi's watch, Israel has become a nation which discriminates against Jews as no other on earth. It tells them how they can worship and how they cannot, whom they can marry and whom they cannot, whether, if female, they can sing in the presence of men, whether, if non-Orthodox, they can be considered Jews at all. Whether, if left-wing, they can enter Israel at all.

On Bibi's watch, every single week, there is a new outrage in which the Orthodox Rabbinate, the Interior Ministry and other authorities have taken it upon themselves to tell Jews - devoted, identifying, secure in their own Jewishness - that they are not Jews.

The less Jewish Israel becomes, the less its leaders – and especially, its state-paid extremist rabbis – are guided by Jewish values, the more they worship idols in the form of settlements and geography, the more they divide the Jewish people into Jews (the pro-Netanyahu Right) and Negligible, Disloyal Leftists (everyone else), the harder Netanyahu works at passing bills like the Jewish national-state law.

The law that, more than any other, violates Jewish values.

The "Jewish" law which intentionally, brutally, unflinchingly repealed the blueprint for Israel which had committed the nation to ancient Jewish directives for social justice, the Declaration of Independence.

The "Jewish" law explicitly written to counter and negate sections of the Declaration based on teachings of the Torah. The "Jewish" law meant to quash the Declaration's pledge that Israel would be "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

I should be nothing but disgusted by this. Disheartened. In despair. And I would be, but for one saving grace:

I met the one person who should frighten Bibi more than any other in this world.

My barber.

A lifelong Likudnik, he is force-of-nature influencer in his corner of Jaffa, itself a Likud stronghold. On the day I came for a haircut, my barber's political war council was meeting. Working people, small business people. All of them lifelong Likudniks. All of them politically passionate and knowing. All of them with well-worked out plans for Election Day. They've reached a consensus:

Not one of them is going to vote.

This is Bibi's base, and it's already slipped away from him.

They are wise to him, in every sense. They know him inside and out, for what he is. Inside and out. Rotten. In every sense. Mean and greedy and untrustworthy and heartless. Cold as death. Not an authentically Jewish bone in the prime minister's whole body.

These are decent people. They have kind hearts. They have what was once known and cherished as a Jewish soul. They help others. They speak Arabic from their homes, and to their neighbors. They have good reasons to be bitter, cruel, crooked.  But they are not. 

Benjamin Netanyahu's in a different league, all right. Nothing Jewish about it.

Jewish or not, you have to ask: Why in the world would you want a guy like that running your country? 

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