It may be due to the changing of the seasons, but there seems to be an awful lot of Bibi revisionism in the air of late. Even unimpeachably progressive and intelligent people seem to have jumped on the bandwagon. David Landau wrote about the prime minister’s “much matured and improved performance of late” , while Yoel Marcus could barely restrain himself from anointing Netanyahu eternal king of Israel .
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From where I sit (middle-class Tel Aviv, with no hope and less money,) I see the same old Bibi –bumbling, arrogant, devious, paranoid and ideologically as rigid as ever. The only maturity that I can see is the vintage of the wine being imbibed in high places. Where is this new-model Bibi Mark 2?
Certainly not in the so-called peace process, which the prime minister entered under duress and has done his best to stymie ever since. Does anyone honestly believe that Bar Ilan 2013 was an improvement on its predecessor, or that there is any hope at all for peace while Netanyahu is pulling the strings? And if he has not improved when it comes to the essential challenge facing the country – the existential issue, to use an overused phrase - what’s the point in talking about improvement?
Nor has the prime minister done anything at all about the social gaps, the inequality, the cost of living, the tycoonism (whose problems are not thanks to anything that Netanyahu has done,) the dysfunctional labor market, the disappearing pensions and all the other socio-economic catastrophes and fiascos that blight our lives. In fact, we seem to have forgotten that many of them are the legacy of the very same prime minister’s first term in office.
Ask the former members of the middle class who now scrounge for discarded vegetables in the Carmel market just before the onset of Shabbat what they think of Bibi’s improved and mature performance. Or the young couples who’ll never be able to buy an apartment.
Whatever this new maturity on the part of the prime minister consists of, it certainly hasn’t rubbed off onto his cohorts in government and the Knesset. Rather than maturity, what we’re now seeing in government is the onset of infantilism, characterized by some of the most callow and pernicious legislative activity the country has ever seen.
It’s difficult, for example, to see the maturity in the approval given by the Ministerial Committee on legislation to a bill that would not only set out barriers preempting any peace agreement with the Palestinians but would prevent Israeli negotiators from even discussing the future of Jerusalem. What’s that an improvement on?
Then, of course, there’s the outright racism of the state’s handling of the illegal migrants from Africa, which provoked the normally judicious judges of the Supreme Court into unusually blunt criticism. Detaining refugees for three years without trial is neither mature nor an improvement on anything that went before it.
It can be argued, of course, that the actions of the police or municipal inspectors or reactionary clowns like Miri Regev and Yariv Levin are not under the prime minister’s purview and do not reflect on his performance as prime minister. But they do. The prime minister, especially one as entrenched as Netanyahu, sets the tone and has the ability to intervene. At the very least, he could speak out publicly about the neo-fascism that has crept into his administration – but he never has.
Much of the Bibi revisionism seems to be based on Netanyahu’s Iran policy, which, it is claimed, was solely responsible for the imposition of tough sanctions on Tehran and led, ultimately, to the current easing of tensions and a potential breakthrough. It’s not a thesis that can be empirically proven and I doubt whether Messers Clinton, Bush and Obama would go along with it. The U.S., Russia and the other nuclear nations on the Security Council are very jealous of their prerogative and, if there’s one thing they’ve consistently been in step on, it’s preventing other nations from going nuclear. Netanyahu may have stiffened their backs a little, but no more. No-one wants to see a nuclear Iran.
Beside which, we seem to have forgotten that it was the maturity of the heads of the army and the security services that prevented us from going to war with Iran two summers ago, not the putative maturity of the war-mongering prime minister.
If anything Netanyahu’s sullen and sulky responses to the latest developments with Iran betray a lot more childishness and insecurity than they do maturity.
I think it was Amos Oz who described the end of Netanyahu’s first term as the quiet that comes from having a pneumatic drill outside your window suddenly turned off. It was an apposite metaphor and it still holds today. What many of us seem to be suffering from is Bibi exhaustion. After a while, the negativity, paranoia, pathos and self-pity are too much to bear. It becomes easier to give in to it than to fight it; to justify it, rather than to remind oneself, for the umpteenth time, that it is absurd and dangerous nonsense.
Netanyahu hasn’t improved and he hasn’t matured. All that has happened is that he’s worn us down.
Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv.