Opinion

Vilify Netanyahu as Much as He Deserves, but He Will Stay on as Long as No Other Leader Emerges

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A poster depicting Netanyahu behind a barrier during a protest against his government, Jerusalem, June 27, 2020.
A poster depicting Netanyahu behind a barrier during a protest against his government, Jerusalem, June 27, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Despair. And as always with despair, the eternal words of David Avidan come forth:

“What justifies most of all

the loneliness, the great despair …

is the simple cutting fact

we have nowhere else to go”

The State of Israel actually has somewhere to go, but it has no one to go with it, no one to lead it. The simple cutting fact is that we have no one to go with. No one is positioned opposite Benjamin Netanyahu. No person and no idea, no leader and no plan. And that is what justifies most of all the great despair.

The protest is justified, nothing is more justified, just as are its motivations, its catalysts and its reasons. Netanyahu must go. His time has come. The people stirring up the protest are also good people, full of good intentions, but who are they proposing? And what are they offering, besides his riddance? Who exactly stands opposite Netanyahu? Who is supposed to replace him?

Close your eyes and think of the person you would want to see in the Prime Minister’s Office. Is there any such person? Can you give me one name, one person who inspires hope? The secret of Netanyahu’s current power stems mainly from this: There is no one to oppose him. He has a hand in it, but you can’t lay all the blame on him. It attests to something that is more than just him.

A protest aiming to oust a prime minister is of course legitimate, and now it’s also vital. However, when they storm the barricades with neither an ideological nor personal alternative – even they don't have a leader – the protest will never get off the ground. A protest without a face and without a plan is hollow.

It certainly intensifies the pleasant feeling of civic involvement among columnists and retired air force pilots who no longer bomb innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon, but there’s not much content to it. Such is the current protest, and so it will end in nothing, as its predecessors did.

It’s not enough to negate what exists. There has never been such a vacuum, such a dull emptiness since the founding of the state. David Ben-Gurion had an alternative, both within his party and outside it, as did Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, all of them.

Israel waited for the next generation, the next thing. After Ben-Gurion, they waited for Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Peres and Rabin. After them came the so-called octet. They also waited in Likud for the next thing after Menahem Begin, and who are they waiting for now? Nobody because there is nobody. Benny Gantz was smashed. Amir Peretz imploded. Yair Lapid was never taken seriously. Gideon Sa’ar is liable to make people miss Netanyahu. So, who is there?

From left: Ashkenazi, Gantz, Lapid, Ya'alon and Peretz; all the leaders of Netanyahu's opposition failed to unseat him in the last, repeated elections. Cartoon from March 3, 2020.
From left: Ashkenazi, Gantz, Lapid, Ya'alon and Peretz; all the leaders of Netanyahu's opposition failed to unseat him in the last, repeated elections. Cartoon from March 3, 2020.Credit: Eran Wolkowski

Try this exercise with all those constantly complaining about the situation, all those who despise Netanyahu, who are as numerous as the sand on the beach, and ask them: Who do you propose? Whoosh. Quiet. Hesitation. Nodding. Clearing of the throat. Embarrassment. Finally: “Anyone would be better than him.” Not so sure. That’s not an answer.

Standing water stagnates. Thus can Netanyahu be portrayed in a positive light. Gadi Eisenkot is warming up on the sidelines as the next great hope, who will disappoint exactly as his twin predecessors did, Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi. Aviv Kochavi will be the next great, disappointing hope after him. When the only hope comes from the army base – which is also a type of democracy – there is no chance for change. Military veterans, save for the rarest of instances, do not understand civilian life. Neither is democracy exactly their school, and they are locked up in the conventional wisdom of security, security, by virtue of their roles.

Beyond them there is no one anywhere worth look toward in hopes of change. Amos Oz once described Netanyahu as a noisy compressor under one’s window. The one who will replace Netanyahu will silence the din of that compressor, but that’s not what they are protesting for. He also will be a person under no criminal indictments, and even that won’t be enough. On the day that the alternative emerges, the Netanyahu story will end. It’s doubtful it will end before that.

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