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The All-consuming Drive to Oust Netanyahu Has Strangled Us

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu makes his way out of a meeting with his lawyers in Tel Aviv, last week.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu makes his way out of a meeting with his lawyers in Tel Aviv, last week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

Suppose the court, after many years, convicts Benjamin Netanyahu on all charges. Will the witch hunt end? Assuming he hasn’t already returned to being prime minister by then, Netanyahu’s supporters will presumably explain that it’s all because the courts of “First Israel” – in other words, the Ashkenazi elites – are abusing “Second Israel,”—the disadvantaged Mizrahim.

Even without the need for a trial, consider the stunning fact that Netanyahu received champagne and cigars worth the astronomical sum of 700,000 shekels ($200,000). In a normal situation, that would have been more than enough, ethically, to justify the prime minister’s removal. But here, the world just carries on.

And not just in Israel. Things are tough all over. We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that only in dictatorships are citizens forced to accept the leader’s whims and demands and to salute him in city squares. There’s always the hope, however, that as soon as the dictator is ousted morality will be restored.

The trouble is that in democratic states the public itself plays the role of the dictator, and authorizes the illegal and the immoral, in the face of which government norms are helpless. Shame rises, and the honest man feels alienated from his surroundings, while the corrupt man plays the role of the adored star. Instead of “the bold and the beautiful,” the corrupt and the heroic are applauded.

In light of all this, a little rational thought wouldn’t hurt. These are our options: The first is that Netanyahu’s trial goes on for several more years, and in the end we’re right back where we started. Bibi’s “community” will oppose the justice system if it doesn’t like the verdict, and the community that supports the supremacy of the law will of course be for it. The second option is the plea bargain currently being hammered out between Netanyahu and the prosecution, under which Netanyahu would admit to some of the charges. His punishment would include a finding of moral turpitude, barring him from public life for seven years. The choice, then, is between continuing to wallow in the mud – and Netanyahu is known to be a champion mud swimmer – and the end of this man’s political career.

Netanyahu is the most dangerous person in Israeli politics. He is willing to do anything, and with great skill, to stay in power: to incite, to spread hatred, to divide whatever crosses his path. Nevertheless, I have no feelings of revenge against him. I do not have an urge to see him taunted and roughed up on his way to the prison canteen. To nurse feelings of revenge is to live in the past. The future requires new ways of thinking, liberated from the shackles of the past – and right now, we must find a way to rebuild the popular protest movements that have shifted their focus from social justice activism, anti-discrimination and anti-occupation to focusing solely on ousting Netanyahu.

The fight against Netanyahu the man, and not what he symbolizes, is creating an absurd situation: Bibi supporters lay into the anti-Bibi camp, and who takes a hit? The Palestinians, of course. The Bibi camp hurls a blow at the rival camp, the other side ducks, and the Palestinian gets hit in the face. Throughout Israel, and in the occupied territories as well, the blows are raining down – in the Negev, in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities, in Area C of the West Bank. Meanwhile, the left – the joke that’s called the left – asks the Arab coalition members to shut up and support the ones who are giving them a thrashing, because the only important thing is keeping Bibi out.

So let me take this opportunity to reassure the “anti-Bibi” camp: Don’t worry – taking Bibi's place are a whole bunch of pseudo-Bibis filling the public arena, in Likud and in the government. If all your effort goes toward Bibi, you give the rulers legitimacy to do more terrible things. The glue that binds the coalition's far right with what passes for the left here – the “anti-Bibi” umbrella – is strangling us. Just ask the Sheikh Jarrah expellees.

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