Opinion |

Netanyahu Is Finished

Politics may be a very temporary business. But betrayal is forever

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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A portrait of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu burned by Iranian demonstrators lies on the ground in Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2017.
A portrait of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu burned by Iranian demonstrators lies on the ground in Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2017.Credit: Vahid Salemi/AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

It's time to start to sum up Benjamin Netanyahu's legacy. It's time to begin to reboot everything we know and are resigned to thinking about how Israel works, how Israelis vote, how nothing ever changes, how nothing can change, except to get worse.

Because he's done for.

Granted, the end won't come soon enough. The prime minister will stonewall and spin and sample state dinners at home and abroad for a while yet. But the end is coming. And he knows it.

Study his eyes. He is shut down. He is becoming his old man. Bleak. Inward. Trusting only his own family. Looking out for no one else. His father saw the world as a place which permanently hates the Jews' guts. Here, this new model Benjamin Netanyahu can relax in the company of anti-Semites. At least they can be trusted.

This is no longer the Netanyahu you know. He's lost it. Just one example: The Netanyahu of his prime would never have risked enraging and estranging North American Jews in disputes over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and Orthodox control over conversions performed in Israel.

In fact, years from now, when historians look back at the point at which Netanyahu was done for, the tipping point may have had nothing to do with submarines for the navy, or pink champagne for his wife. Nor may it have anything to do with the fact that Netanyahu's recently reluctant benefactor Sheldon Adelson – who reportedly gave testimony contradicting Netanyahu in yet another graft case – can smell a bet gone sour all the way from Vegas.

The turning point may well be a result of an issue which this week cut to the very core of what it means to be an Israeli, an issue which, unlike nearly every other, cuts across lines of class and ethnicity and political orientation.

It is, simply, the single most important reason why Israel still exists at all: The importance of the family. The meaning and the sanctity of raising children.

The family, its resilience and its inexplicable, bottomless strength, is why Israel does not simply collapse under the crushing weight of its enemies and its tribalism, its frustration and fury and grief, and under the terrible policies of its own terrible leaders.

Which is why, when the Netanyahu government told the High Court this week that it would effectively forbid gay couples to adopt children, it may well have signed its own death warrant.

Nothing less. Because for the great majority of Israelis, "family values" simply means raising and supporting and protecting your children and grandchildren as wholeheartedly as possible. Whatever their sexual orientation.

This week, however, the Netanyahu government made clear that it views family values in a diametrically different direction. Defending the effective ban on gay adoption, government representatives warned the High Court this week of "the difficulty that is liable to be caused the child as the child of a non-routine family." They also used the term "irregular" as a euphemism for LGBTQ people.

It is the kind of statement that cannot be unheard. It is the kind of position which sparks fury and outrage and a profound sense of betrayal, which Netanyahu and his government have sparked among an ever-widening list of communities on an ever-expanding list of issues. The anger is immediate.

And it's not going away.

The rage and the sense of betrayal were particularly strong among gay Israelis who believed Netanyahu when he would assert, especially on trips abroad, that LGBTQ rights were an important part of the fabric of life in Israel.

Just last September, addressing the United Nations, the prime minister spoke of "That same Israel where gays march proudly in our streets and serve in our parliament – including, I'm proud to say, in my own Likud party."

Prominent television personality Assi Azar, who has often spoken overseas of Israelis' openness to the LGBTQ community, noted this week that "The state uses us and sends us to speak abroad, a filming us for videos that show how much fun it is to be gay in Israel, and salutes the Gay Pride Parade. But when it comes to the level of practicality, to approve rights that would make this a more equal, democratic, accepting, beautiful nation, that's where they cave in," he told Channel 10 television.

Leftist critics of Israel have long accused it of "pinkwashing," disingenuously exploiting the relative freedoms of LGBTQ people in Israel as a means of diverting attention from the abject discrimination and brutal repression of the occupation of the West Bank.

This week, the criticism hit home. So did the discrimination.

Particularly vocal in expressing their sense of betrayal were gay Israelis who regularly do military reserve duty. Many of them had kept a low profile over controversial issues in the past.

In a Facebook post, soft-spoken popular singer Harel Skaat, who does reserve duty and whose partner is a reserve major, urged young LGBTQ Israelis to refuse to be drafted and to avoid paying taxes.

Omer Nachmani, an officer in an IDF reserve unit, had persuaded his battalion to join him in last year's Gay Pride Parade as a gesture of solidarity. The adoption ban decision struck especially hard for Nachmani, chair of Blue and White Pride, a group which works for greater acceptance of gays in the military.

"I'm furious, beyond that even," Nachmani said. "When you understand what kind of people are running the country, you can also understand that in the year 2017, they can decide that an IDF officer, who's serving the country, and who has endangered his life for its sake, is someone who can't raise children, someone who can't adopt children."

For Nachmani, the adoption decision brought him back to his experience as a closeted 16-year old, as bullies in his high school threw around crude derogatory terms for LGBTQ people. "They caused me to hate myself. They caused me to be afraid. They taught me to feel ashamed," he told the television.

"More than 10 years have passed since then, and now the schoolyard biryon [bully, thug] has been replaced by the State of Israel, which is now the biryon, the one who calls me irregular, the Other, something alien and marginal – not part of the State of Israel. Someone who can't raise a family. This angers me very much, it's very hurtful."

On Tuesday, Likud MK Amir Ohana, elected to serve as the LGBTQ community’s representative within the party, announced that he would refuse to vote with the ruling coalition until the government changed its stance on gay adoption. Later that day, in the face of mounting protests by state prosecutors, government social workers, the chair of the Israel Psychological Organization and others, the government announced that it would re-examine its position. The High Court then agreed to the government's request for a three month postponement of a hearing on the issue.

The High Court is to hear the issue on Thursday. However it rules, though, Netanyahu is likely to find – for the umpteenth time just this year on a range of other issues – that the damage has been done.

"The state is saying 'You can't be parents.'" Azar said. "We can't be parents? How can we be soldiers? How can the state trust us to defend it, but not trust us to raise kids?"

Politics may be a very temporary business. But betrayal is forever.

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