Opinion |

Israeli Youth Needs to Take a Stand

Israel's youth must stand up to Netanyahu's all-out war on the state

Yossi Ben Ari
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Protesters in Goren Square in Petah Tikva, on Saturday, November 23, 2019.
Protesters in Goren Square in Petah Tikva, on Saturday, November 23, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yossi Ben Ari

Our dear children, look what young people your age have done and are doing all over the world. Now your time has come to leave your comfort zone.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s words on Thursday left me open-mouthed, and dropjawed. The head of the temporary transition government had stepped up to the podium at his official residence to respond to indictments handed down against him that same day by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

Like most members of the public, I didn’t expect any other response from Netanyahu.

Unlike his predecessor Ehud Olmert, he is not a person who knows how to say to himself “enough” and then back down on his own initiative, even when almost everything is already clear, and where from here on in he can only lose – in a big way. It was clear in before the fact that Netanyahu wouldn’t leave us alone, as long as it depended on him.

And still, the “chain of explosive devices” that he triggered with his speech against Israeli democracy – against all of us – is truly incomprehensible.

Although in recent years Netanyahu has one layer at a time, aimed attacks at the Israel Police intelligence and investigations division and its head, Meni Yitzhaki; Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich; the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office Taxation and Economics Division and its head, Liat Ben Ari; the State Prosecutor’s Office and its head, Shai Nitzan – his response on Thursday “crucified” the entire realm of Israeli law enforcement, in its entirety.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, a decent man who found himself in a cruel situation, to his detriment, was also not safe from attack. And nevertheless, all along Mendelblit followed his professional conscience, and made the necessary decision in light of the depths and gravity of the evidence. I can’t help but take my hat off to him.

Netanyahu, the national inciter, allowed himself to described Mendelbit as Shai Nitzan’s “dishrag.” Apparently he is no longer pinning many hopes on the attorney general, although at a later date Mendelblit’s words and recommendations will have considerable clout – unfortunately, when it comes to the possibility that the resident of Balfour Street will be able to run for a position of national leadership once again. Netanyahu is transitioning from the phase of limited warfare to all-out warfare – from now on he will do whatever it takes, and who knows what else awaits us down the road.

That being the case, it is hard to answer the question “where are we headed?” In order to do so, we should first ask “how did we get to such a catastrophic place?” I see many guilty parties: First of all, Netanyahu’s dictatorial rule in his party, Likud. The broad popular support that he receives on a personal level enables him to grab all the senior members of his party by the balls, and to force them to remain silent.

It’s hard to understand how senior Likudniks like Yuli Edelstein, Ze’ev Elkin, Nir Barkat, Yoav Galant, Gila Gamliel, Avi Dichter, Tzachi Hanegbi, Tzipi Hotovely, Yisrael Katz, Yifat Shasha-Biton, Yuval Steinmetz, Yoav Kish – and yes, Gideon Sa’ar too – all of them basically good and worthy people, have lost their last remnants of integrity, and still don’t dare to say (even gently) what is required, or at least refrain from espousing sycophantic declarations of support for Netanyahu. They have a moral obligation to see things as they are, even if they may have to pay for that with their political futures.

Clockwise: Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan, Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein, Yoav Gallant, Nir Barkat, Tzachi Hanegbi, and Miri Regev.
Clockwise: Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan, Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein, Yoav Gallant, Nir Barkat, Tzachi Hanegbi, and Miri Regev.Credit: Moti Milrod, Olivier Fitoussi, Hadas Parush, Nir Keidar, Eyal Toueg, Meged Gozani

My dear politicians, look forward: History will judge you not for the next position that you may be able to obtain, but for the disgrace of your moral weakness at this very point in time.

The second group that is guilty is us, the adult public, the generation of those aged 50-75, who in our youth experienced Israel’s wars and took to the streets and played a role in the country’s political struggles.

Let’s admit the truth – we’re tired, now we prefer to rest a little, to enjoy getting together with friends, to take advantage of cultural events, to engage in sports, to sight see in Israel and abroad, and stay within the confines of the family, while allocating the remaining time to helping to raise our grandchildren.

And yet, even in recent years we haven’t remained idle:

We marched in the tents protest, we were also on Goren Square in Petah Tikva, we have crowded together on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and gathered in Habima Square. But in all those instances we didn’t really storm the barricades but mainly let off some steam, while our children’s generation was largely absent from the arena.

And now comes the third guilty party: our children’s generation, the generation that is supposed to carry this country on its shoulders, those aged 25-50, we barely see them. Where are you? Why aren’t you in the political arena, or at least out in the street? True, we can certainly understand the long work hours of work and the problems of making a living (which may be greater than ours); we can understand the difficulty of raising the children (but with the additional support you get from your parents – which most of us didn’t get at all – it’s a weak excuse); we can understand the fact that the city square has moved to the TV screens; and yes, we can also understand your desire to enjoy the good things in life in Israel and abroad (which are undoubtedly more inviting and tempting that what existed in our time).

And still – your future, and the future of your children (our grandchildren) lies in the balance.

If you don’t pull yourselves together quickly and internalize that – in a short time, when most of us are no longer here, you will find yourself in a weak and disintegrating country, lacking enforcement authorities and being held hostage to large crime syndicates, where everything is allowed.

Such a country will exhibit greater similarities than differences with neighbors, like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, so that you’ll be able to integrate well into the “new Middle East,” and will be like ripe fruit falling into the jaws of Iran and Israel’s other enemies.

Our dear children, look what young people your age have done and are doing all over the world – in Tunisia, Cairo, Beirut, as well as Paris and Hong Kong. Now your time has come to release us and for you to leave your own comfort zones, instead of us.

Don’t let Netanyahu’s latest declaration (“we’ll accept the decisions of the court”) confuse you.

We should cast great doubt on its reliability. In the present situation, when the rate of support for Prime Minister Netanyahu has barely dropped since the attorney general’s decision to prosecute him – this is the last wake-up call for anyone who opposes corrupt government here. Wake up, or you’ll miss the boat.

Dr. Ben Ari is a former brigadier general and senior member of the intelligence community, and onetime leading instructor at the National Security College

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