The Diametric Opposite of Netanyahu

Minister Amir Peretz could be the one to show us the way out of the mess.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz
Environmental Protection Minister Amir PeretzCredit: Tess Scheflan
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

The signs are glaring: the government is wobbling like a rotten tooth, ready to fall. The outbursts of the right-wing ministers - Naftali Bennett’s threats that “this government is not viable,” Yitzhak Aharonovitch sentencing terrorists to death and Uri Ariel deciding to move to Silwan - were followed by the declaration by Amir Peretz that he will not support the budget and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is actually the problem. All these indicate that the end of this government is nigh.

Peretz appeared quite agitated while delivering his statement. It seems that it was difficult for him to reach his decision and he hoped that his words would force Netanyahu to fire him. However, Netanyahu is busy trying to remain at the helm of a government, any government, for perpetuity; Peretz doesn’t interest him at this point.

The fatal shooting in Kafr Qana happened just as Peretz was preparing for an interview on TV Channel 2; he realized that he had to resign. If up to now he sat in a government that ignored, or even encouraged, extremists on the right, swallowing his pride with flimsy excuses that maybe Tzipi Livni would manage to salvage a shred of negotiations, Peretz has been part of a cabinet that has plunged the country into a suicidal spiral over the last few months.

It could be that Netanyahu is acting with such frenzy out of fear that he is about to be deposed from his throne. In any case, he is consciously dragging Israel into an apocalyptic war. This may be what Bennett and his associates wish for, but any left-wing or centrist politician cannot be a part of such a process. Netanyahu seems to have no option. Even by his own lights, he has failed in every possible way. Poverty and deepening societal gaps may hold no interest for him, but the pervasive corruption of high level politicians, the over-centralized economy, the high cost of living, the flight of academics and the expanding real estate bubble make a mockery of all his pledges, from 1996 to the present day. His boasts of eradicating terror were buried along with the victims of the recent war. Israel is in the midst of a deep rift with the United States, its academics are boycotted and, one after another, foreign governments are voting for a Palestinian state.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu’s response to all of this borders on insanity: an irresponsible expansion of settlements, unbridled verbal attacks on Palestinian leaders, a resounding silence in the face of racist mobs rampaging in the streets and augmented fear-mongering, which labels Israelis as persecuted Jews and the rest of the world as a pack of arch-enemies. With frightening speed, Netanyahu is shattering a sovereign state, bringing it to the abyss of de-legitimization, in which it will reside on its own, a violent and hysterical victim of its own making.

Is there no escape from all of this? There might still be a way out. If there is, Peretz may be the one to show the path. Peretz, even though he has made his own mistakes in the past, is the diametric opposite of Netanyahu: he is Israel’s most authentic social-democrat politician; he is modest and untainted by the sticky ties between capital and politics; he comes from the core of the real Israel, not the one ensconced in its high-end housing. Even without the credit for “Iron Dome,” he has considerable political and governmental experience.

In the present balance of political forces and in his current position, Peretz will find it difficult to lead the moves that are now so essential. The rule of fear, despair and the economic and the diplomatic ruin wrought by the extreme right have seeped deep into the public’s consciousness. Despite this, Peretz has reminded the public that an alternative is possible. The left, and anyone who holds Israel dear, must fight for it.

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