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Is the anybody-but-Bibi Camp Really More Enlightened?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Benjamin Netanyahu last year.
Benjamin Netanyahu last year.Credit: AP Photo/ Ariel Schalit
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It is said that Benjamin Netanyahu incited against the left, and that he is the one who delegitimized it. The incitement against the former prime minister’s supporters and the scorn for them is no less severe. To call someone a leftist is considered derogatory in Israel. It’s highly unlikely that Neanyahu is the cause of that. However, to call someone a Netanyahu supporter a Bibist in Hebrew, referrring to Netanyahu’s nickname, has become a means of humiliation. Let’s admit it, there are venomous mouthpieces on the right, and there are no less venomous mouthpieces on the center-left. There are knee-jerk talking points on both sides.

The center-left’s arrogance regarding the Bibists is not only wrong and unfair; it also stems from the baseless self-satisfaction of the “anybody but Bibi” camp. You can be a Gaullist in France, a Nasserist in Arab countries, and even a Peronist in Argentina and not feel insulted. Labeling an Israeli a Bibist is an insult.

To be a Bibist means to be harebrained, a baboon if not a cult member. There can’t be a Bibist who doesn’t fall into one of these categories. There’s no way anyone could arrive at the conclusion that they appreciate or even admire Netanyahu on their own. There’s no chance that anyone could be persuaded that Netanyahu was a good prime minister and would want to see him head the government. There is no chance that some Israelis could be deeply grateful to him, for whatever reason.

Maybe he was good to them? What do they understand. Maybe he expressed their feelings and positions well? No way. Someone certainly incited them, exploited them, dictated that they be this way, misled them, because Bibists lack the skills to reach understandings and assessments of their own.

Throwing insults, the subtext of every conversation about Bibists, only unites their ranks further under their shared fate, and increases their feelings of alienation, discrimination and oppression, whether justified or not. When an entire group of people is framed in such a way, of course the outcome will be feelings of inferiority, and such feelings are certainly not a recipe for healthy politics.

Netanyahu only benefits from this arrogance regarding his supporters. At least for some of them, love for him is sincere and authentic. You can’t ignore this feeling, you can’t suppress it, whatever its source. The left wing doesn’t have such love for anyone, nor for any idea, and perhaps it’s better this way. Still, you can’t ignore and disparage the feelings of the other camp. It’s best not to venerate any politician, not to mention love, but you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

When over 3 million shekels ($958,000) are raised within a few days as an unprecedented show of sympathy, you can’t say the rain is spit. It’s real rain from many who want the best for Netanyahu. Disdain, contempt and scorn from the opposing camp are incitement. The fact that Netanyahu is wealthy enough to pay for his own legal representation does not eclipse the fact that this crowdfunding effort is also based on solidarity with someone the donors perceive as a beloved leader and a victim.

Behind all of this derision lurks a sense of superiority based in part on ethnic origins; denial and suppression won’t help. We built this state, and they took it from us. We are the enlightened Ashkenazim, or at least the educated leftists, while they are the ignorant Mizrahim, or at least the primitive right wingers. Love for Netanyahu is a response and a release.

Is the anybody-but-Bibi camp really more enlightened? More democratic? Where and how exactly? In the institutions of the Yesh Atid party? In the occupation authorities established by that camp? In the blind worship of the Israel Defense Forces? There are many reasons to be disgusted with Likud and Netanyahu and to fight them, but they are not a reason to lord it over their supporters, even if their spokespeople are sometimes inarticulate. No one lords it over the settlers, for example, who are much more dangerous, violent, damaging and disgust-worthy. Why? Because in the end, in the end, they are one of us.

Correction: The NGO Honenu was not behind the crowdfunding campaign for Benjamin Netanyahu as a previous version of this article stated.

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