Benjamin Netanyahu is fading away. Half the nation will rejoice, the other half will mourn, both to excess, but there’s no ignoring that someone who cast a giant shadow on Israel is in the process of dwindling. Remnants of the shadow still exist – the “anyone but Bibi” camp continues to blame him for every bad thing that happens under the sun, while the “only Bibi” camp constantly blames Naftali Bennett just as totally and automatically, and both do so to an exaggerated degree, as befitting a giant shadow. But the shadow is fading.
The Ukraine war, the most fateful event of the 21st century, is proceeding without a peep from Netanyahu, while Bennett is gaining international stature and respect in connection with it. While Bennett is powwowing with Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Netanyahu is with Shlomo Filber. While his trial may not have hindered him from functioning as prime minister, it looks like it is messing with his performance as leader of the opposition. A generic tweet about the terror attack in Be’er Sheva isn’t enough to conjure the existence of the wizard and devil whose presence towered over us only yesterday. You expect more from an opposition leader who just stepped out for a commercial break and will be right back; and you expect more from the camp of his haters too.
Netanyahu’s absence exposes both the void that came after him and the amazing similarity between him and his successors. When you start to get free from the shadow, you discover that the demon wasn’t really so terrible, and that those who replaced him are really no different. For good and for bad, the change government is really the no-change government. Even the lifestyles of their leaders are not as different as expected – Netanyahu had hundreds of millions spent on a plane, Bennett had tens of millions spent on a house; Netanyahu surrendered to his wife’s whims; Bennett surrendered to the Shin Bet’s whims – and which is worse?
Of course, nothing has changed in terms of the occupation policy either. Nothing at all. The same crimes keep happening day in and day out, on the same scope. The killing and dispossession goes on, and on this there is no difference between the Netanyahu government and the Bennett-Lapid government. All are in favor. There isn’t even any semblance of a new spirit, of another hope that will ultimately be dashed. Everyone is also all for the army and the Shin Bet and all their craziness, including when it comes to budget demands. On Iran the differences are smaller than they seemed too. Netanyahu tried to sabotage the agreement, Bennett opposes the agreement, and both bomb Syria as a solution.
The challenge of the refugees from Ukraine revealed that even on such a specific and fundamental issue, there is no difference: Netanyahu would have acted the same way. The change government is not more humane or liberal than its predecessor, either in the territories or at the airport. It’s Israel above all, a beacon of national egoism. On the coronavirus, the economy, welfare, religion – the changes are only in the margins, some for better and some for worse. This is no revolution; there isn’t even a single new idea. After years of such a fierce effort to oust Netanyahu, one would expect something more.
Israel has not come out from the darkness into the light, nor has it been left orphaned. And it looks like both camps are starting to realize this. The murmurings against Netanyahu in Likud are growing louder, even if they are still confined to private conversations, as are the murmurings in the other camp against the present government. Netanyahu went, Bennett-Lapid came, and hardly anything changed. Now people see that the country is not Netanyahu and Netanyahu is not the country.
This is depressing news. It shows how insane the campaign against Netanyahu was, which got all carried away just to conceal the void hiding beneath it and the similarity between the two camps, and how feeble the hope for change really is. The Balfour protesters did not propose anything different. They have nothing to offer, and they never did. How predictable. Put Netanyahu, Bennett and Lapid in one room and they’ll agree on everything, except when it comes to their personal interests.
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How ironic it is that the fading of Netanyahu’s shadow is bad news for his haters: Their nakedness is being exposed. At least we can try to cheer them up by telling them – He may yet return, although the chances of this happening seem to be fading too.