The accepted assumption in advance of the September 17 election was encapsulated long ago by Ecclesiastes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.” Benjamin Netanyahu will be reelected by hook of the narrow right-wing government he yearns for, or by crook of a national unity government that will be imposed on him by Avigdor Lieberman.
It is a cautious projection, based on what seems to be an inherent, built-in right-wing majority, the empirical evidence of four previous election campaigns, which Netanyahu’s rivals thought he could lose, and the limitations of the human mind, which finds it difficult to conjure an alternative reality.
Netanyahu, after all, has been in power for 10 years straight and, if one includes his first tenure in the late 1990s, for 13 of the past 23 years. As in Putin’s Russia, Merkel’s Germany, Erdogan’s Turkey, Aliyev’s Azerbaijan, Assad’s Syria or Khamenei’s Iran, Israel’s younger generation knows only Netanyahu, and their elders find it hard to remember the world before him.
The entire Israeli public is suffering from what psychologists dub metathesiophobia: Unwarranted and irrational fear of change or renewal.
So if the currently unimaginable occurs nonetheless and Netanyahu is unseated, Israelis will face a disturbing vacuum at the top. Their first night without Bibi will undoubtedly be traumatic: Israelis will find themselves transported to a grave new world in which the past is known but the future seems like a huge gamble.
One of the possible remedies for metathesiophobia is “exposure therapy,” in which the patient is guided to confront his fears and to explore its potential benefits. In this case, Israelis must be persuaded that there is life after Netanyahu, which, theoretically at least, may even be better. If the Israeli public was on the couch, here are some of the main points a therapist might mention:
1. The dybbuk will depart. Israel will cease being Bibiland and will revert to being the State of the Jews (and its other citizens…).
2. Netanyahu’s dysfunctional family will no longer inspire fear and loathing far and wide, and will no longer serve as a macabre role model.
3. The country will no longer be consumed by Netanyahu’s never-ending efforts to escape the long arm of the law. Public discourse will revert to those nagging issues that have been pushed to the sidelines, including occupation, peace, economy, society, health, education and other trivial matters.
4. Likud will recover from its cult of personality and self-imposed servitude and return to its glory days as Israel’s most vibrant political entity. The need to align with ultra-Orthodox and ultra-right parties only because they are willing to support Netanyahu’s prison break will dissipate, paving the way for a government that represents Israel’s more moderate and sane majority (relatively speaking).
5. Ministers and senior officials will be appointed more in accordance with their talents and experience and less because of their slavish obedience to Netanyahu.
6. Democracy will be bolstered, the rule of law entrenched and the media not only relieved but able to recuperate from what increasingly seems like its broken spine.
7. Lacking both motive and motor, hatred will decrease, animosity lessen and hyper-nationalism dissipate, while internal incitement goes down an octave or two. There will be an immediate improvement in relations between the state and its Arab and Druze minorities, and possibly the Ethiopian and LGBT communities as well. Committed lefties and human rights activists will be removed from the list of enemies of the state.
8. Relations with the United States will go down a notch, reverting to their original state of strong but half-normal. Israelis will be spared the degrading need to kowtow to a racist and charlatan U.S. president.
9. Most American Jews will breathe easier — perhaps even pop open a champagne bottle or two — and with them Democrats, most of Europe and possibly the Palestinians as well, though most Israelis would continue to view the latter as a sign of defeat. Sheldon Adelson, Viktor Orbán and Saudi princeling MBS would be devastated, which isn’t such a bad thing, is it?
10. As the late and great Amos Oz said after Netanyahu’s first defeat in 1999, it would seem as if an air compressor drill outside Israel’s window has suddenly gone quiet. In due time Israelis will come to realize that the intimidating sounds of silence are what other people call “normalcy.”
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