Opinion |

Israel Will Not Survive Netanyahu. And That's a Good Thing

In all of his proud intransigence, Netanyahu may be creating the very conditions for a radical new Holy Land, a future Israeli-Palestinian confederation.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening ceremony of the annual Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening ceremony of the annual Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 11, Credit: \ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

It's no stretch to suspect that in his heart of hearts, Benjamin Netanyahu would like to be Israel's prime minister for life.

The question is, though: Whose life - Netanyahu's or Israel's?

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In Israel, North America, the world over, many Jews are going through something unfamiliar these days, something disturbing on a level which is both new and profound:

Thanks to Netanyahu, the Israel you know – or thought you knew - is fast disappearing.

In fact, Netanyahu's every move may be propelling the Holy Land into a future which just a short while ago seemed impossible – and to Netanyahu's own vision, distinctly undesirable: The replacement of a single independent Israel with a confederation in which Israel and Palestine are self-governing, co-equal, co-existing, culturally distinct, independent, self-governing entities.

In all of his proud intransigence, Netanyahu may be creating the very conditions for a radical new Holy Land, a future Israeli-Palestinian confederation.

As public opinion analyst Dahlia Scheindlin has shown, a majority of Israelis may support the general approach of confederation.

It won't happen any time soon. But given present realities, a confederation may one day prove inevitable.

The government's entire direction is not only rendering the Oslo-model two-state solution impossible, it is making untenable and unsustainable the present one-state/no-state reality of a monstrous form of triceratops rule (literally, a "three-horned face" - one entire body of law and enforcement for pre-1967 Israel, a second for West Bank settlers, a third for West Bank Palestinians).

>> Time to say goodbye to the two-state solution. Here's the alternative || Opinion >>

If Israel can no longer realistically move settlers – or, for that matter, Palestinians - out of the West Bank, if Israel refuses to give the millions of West Bank Palestinians the right to Israeli citizenship and the vote, then the government is itself creating the conditions under which a confederation may be the only sustainable option.

And what of the meantime? As the prime minister desperately treads water, every solemn national observance in Israel has become a malleable, exploitable, intentionally and obviously divisive campaign stunt for Netanyahu and his Likud-primary-obsessed lackeys, up to and including the memorial day for the Holocaust and resistance to the Nazis.

Love it or hate it, the Israel you know in your kishkes and have grown so accustomed to defending or excoriating, is passing, right before your eyes.

Look again. Right now.

Is it a homeland for Jews? A refuge? A soft place to land? Not any more. Not if you're the wrong color, or you're not Orthodox, or if you support an independent judiciary, or you actively oppose settlements, occupation, forcibly deporting African asylum seekers, or shooting unarmed demonstrators on the other side of a border.

Or if you simply, actively, publicly oppose Benjamin Netanyahu.

David Grossman speaking at the Alternative Memorial Day event in Tel Aviv, April 17, 2018Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Or, maybe you're a major in the IDF reserves. Someone like journalist Yoav Keren, 44, who last year took to video to tell his fellow Israelis something he probably never thought he'd hear himself say:

"This was the first Independence Day in all my 44 years, that I felt that I did not belong to this place."

He is abashed that, in the current toxicity of an alt-right political climate, he feels that he must, before all else, justify himself by presenting his credentials as an authentic Israeli (a second generation paratrooper, "five years regular army, 18 years reserves. Lebanon. Gaza."

"True, I'm not a Likud voter," he said in the Yedioth Ahronoth video OpEd. "True, I'm Ashkenazi. True, I'm secular. But, hey, I'm a major in the reserves. And, besides, my daughters are half-Mizrachi. That also counts, doesn't it?"

Apparently not.

Not, he suggests, when Minister of Culture Miri Regev speaks of 'exterminating the old elites'. And Keren realizes that, despite his relatively modest means, Regev is including him in the 'elite' worthy of extermination. In the same vein, attacks by the prime minister and hard right Education Minister Naftali Bennett against supposedly disloyal and effete leftists, target him by extension.

>> Miri Regev: A paradox wrapped in an Israeli flag >>

And then there is the social media far-right.

"When people write me [calling me] 'scum,' 'sleaze,' and 'piece of shit' just because I criticized the Culture Minister in a Facebook post, I know that they mean every word."

Last week on Memorial Day for the fallen of Israel's military, Keren laid a wreath on the grave of an acquaintance, air force pilot Yonaton Begin, who died in a crash in the course of a training flight in 2000. Yonaton Begin was the grandson of Likud founder Menachem Begin and the son of Likud MK Benny Begin, who has paid a severe political price for opposing anti-democratic moves by party leader Netanyahu.

"As I stood beside the grave, Section 8, Row 1, I thought about The Shadow [firebrand far-right rapper Yoav Eliasi], the right-wing activist and Likud member who recently cast blame at bereaved father Benny Begin, saying 'He taught his kids to be haters of Israel."

Keren said he would not attend the alternative Israel-Palestinian memorial day ceremony organized by the Bereaved Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace, at which right-wing activists have jeered, cursed, and assaulted participants.

>> 'Israel Is a Fortress, but Not Yet a Home': David Grossman's Memorial Day Speech to Bereaved Israelis and Palestinians >>

"But when right-wing activists call bereaved parents 'Nazis' just because they chose to take part in a Jewish-Palestinian ceremony, when they write 'All the leftists must be annihilated,' I feel they're even trying to take Memorial Day away from me.

"I love the country," Keren said. "But apparently it no longer loves me."

This is Israel, 2018. This is the Israel whose leader goes on record – on Independence Day - as effectively declaring to his base: "My party colleague, Yuli Edelstein - who survived KGB persecution and expulsion from university, and then hard labor and injury in a Soviet Siberian prison, and who was willing to endure all that in order to move to Israel, only to rise to become speaker of the Knesset – is, in the end, nothing but a dumb immigrant. And, for the sake of winning an election, you, as my base, along with my Culture Minister and me, can publicly humiliate him all we want."

As the bubble of Netanyahu supporters grows ever tougher, ever more racist, ever more exclusionist, ever more anti-democratic, authoritarian, ever more supportive of violence in word and action, ever more isolated from the rest of the Jewish people, a new, entirely unintended reality, is emerging as a consequence.

Netanyahu's aversion to peace talks and a two state solution, his whole-hog backing for settlement expansion, his creeping but accelerating annexation of the West Bank, and his having earned the increasing enmity and mistrust of the Diaspora's largest Jewish community have actually laid the groundwork for new concepts of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation.

Netanyahu, being Netanyahu, will do what he does best – stall.

But how long will Israelis follow a leader who rules by persuading an activist minority that all the Palestinians really want is to see all the Jews dead?

Not a decent life with basic rights and reasonable opportunities and a fair share in determining their own fate, no – they want you dead.

How long will Israelis follow a leader who promises them that "we will forever live by the sword."

Forever, he says.

Forever, that is, your children – and theirs - will serve in the army and, if I, as your indispensable leader say so, will be ordered to shoot other children.

But even Netanyahu, knows, in his heart of hearts, that nothing is forever.

And no one knows better than Netanyahu, the way things actually work here. Just when you think nothing will ever change, the inconceivable turns overnight into the inevitable.



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