Opinion |

Netanyahu Is Crafting an Alternative Reality

Zehava Galon
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Lod, Israel, in May.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Lod, Israel, in May.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP
Zehava Galon

A right-wing demonstration was held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Thursday, and participation was estimated at about 30 people and a dog. But this demonstration attracted attention because of the insistence of Likud members and right-wingers identified with Benjamin Netanyahu to claim that it happened in Kings of Israel Square, as it was known before the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. When he was prime minister, Netanyahu made use of the strategy of marking his enemies: The Arabs, the left, civil society organizations and the gatekeepers. Netanyahu’s present strategy is the attempt to create an alternative reality.

Netanyahu claimed last week in a video clip that before him, “there was nothing in Tel Aviv.” This is such an absurd lie, even by his standards, so much so that we would tend to ignore it. But that is a dangerous mistake: Maybe Netanyahu looks like a cheap imitation of Churchill in the winter of his life, but his path is carefully planned. It’s no accident that his advisers treat him like the prime minister, and when calls come from his office, the recipients are told, “the prime minister is on the line.” The goal is to negate the legitimacy of the elected Israeli government.

Netanyahu is a known fantasist. On the fifth anniversary of the death of right-wing politician Rehavam Ze’evi, he said he received advice from him when Ze’evi was a minister in his government – but Ze’evi was never a minister in a Netanyahu government. He made up a meeting in the middle of the Yom Kippur War with Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon: “Three prime ministers in one armored personnel carrier.” It never happened. But all these fibs have a purpose: They create, among Netanyahu’s believers, his own legitimacy. He is a right-winger who was friendly with Ze’evi, and he was destined for greatness way back during the Yom Kippur War.

The legitimacy that Netanyahu is fabricating for himself is meant to deny the legitimacy of his rivals. When he vacationed on Lanai, the Hawaiian island owned by Larry Ellison, a witness in his corruption trial, and even met with him there, he challenged the legitimacy of the prosecution. When he set up a podium with the symbol of the state at the start of his trial, and used it to attack his prosecutors, he denied the legitimacy of the very idea of him being brought to justice. Now he is using an especially dangerous tool: the Bibi-ists, who have lost him as their crutch.

Because of him, quite a number of people in Israel have gotten jobs in the media that they are completely unfit for. There are those who were Knesset members because of him, too. Their entire job was to sing the praises of the boss and abuse his rivals. Now, with his fall, they are about to lose everything, and they are desperate.

Social media is erupting in calls for violence against the government, and especially against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. At the demonstration in Rabin Square, a variation on the blood-curdling call from 1995 was heard. This time they shouted: “In blood and fire, we will expel Bennett.” The organizers’ statement that the demonstration was being held in Kings of Israel Square was not a coincidence. The goal was to create an alternative Israel in which Netanyahu’s riding the wave of right-wing incitement that led to Rabin’s murder never happened. At the same time it was a dog whistle for what should have happened: When Netanyahu consistently denies the legitimacy of the elected government, he is whistling to his desperate supporters that they need to bring it down. He does not tell them how, he is always careful not to say how.

Like Donald Trump, Netanyahu also wants his own January 6, the attack on the elected government. He is so much more sophisticated than Trump, and for that exact reason we must not absolve him now from what we absolved him from in 1995 – such dog whistles. We must put up a firm counterattack against Netanyahu’s attacks. This time we don’t have an excuse to close our ears and ignore it.

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