Opinion |

Netanyahu’s Theater

Rami Livni
Rami Livni
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks during a joint statement with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks during a joint statement with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on Monday.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/AP
Rami Livni
Rami Livni

Regrettably, the current government is at the end of its road – but not because the public particularly opposed it. It fell mainly because it was before its time, because it dared to act in the name of a new alliance between diverse social groups and forces from both left and right – an alliance bound by statesmanlike – at a time when the groundwork hadn’t yet been laid for such an alliance. Neither a joint consciousness nor a sufficiently close alignment of interests had yet been forged.

The leftist parties, lacking any other option and having grasped that there was no realistic scenario for forming a more homogeneous center-left government in the foreseeable future, gave it more of a chance than the governing coalition’s right flank did. The latter remained connected to its previous identity – rightist, religious and pro-Netanyahu.

Despite all the effort and restraint, the relationships between the two sides, a shared commitment to the accepted rules of the game, the conciliatory language, the courtesy and the manners, there was no glue strong enough to preserve a government full of internal contradictions for more than a limited time. And that’s especially true when faced with an opposition devoid of restraints headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

We have to take our hats off to the opposition for one thing: It worked wonders in creating a feeling in the media that Israeli society was sharply politically polarized over the question of the government’s legitimacy. As if half the nation were out of its mind with rage over power having been “stolen” from the right by the benighted anti-Zionist gang of Naftali Bennett, the left and the Arabs.

To a large extent, this impression is a fabrication. We aren’t in the days of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was assassinated. Then, the rift was real, profound and total. It went to the heart of two distinct Israeli identities that both aspired to hegemony.

Today, there is no evident tension in the Israeli street that goes beyond the usual, other than on the ideological fringes. Most Israelis aren’t preoccupied with the government and don’t feel any real passion, either positive or negative, about its actions.

There are almost no demonstrations, and not by chance. Even the taxi drivers barely speak about politics. This government doesn’t arouse any exceptional emotions, and therefore, neither does the possibility of it being replaced.

From an artistic standpoint, if we look at Machiavellianism as a form of artistic expression, this was an impressive performance. Cynically and with great talent, Netanyahu, Miri Regev, David Amsalem, Bezalel Smotrich and their colleagues managed to invent a crisis – a crisis whose basis in reality is slim. It’s almost a fake crisis.

They inflated it as much as they could with the help of staged announcements, organized events and a parade of protagonists anguishing over their dilemmas (Amichai Chikli, Idit Silman, Nir Orbach) in order to heighten the dramatic and emotional effect on the viewers. It was drawn out, escalated and underwent various reversals until the inevitable end. Pure theater.

Granted, all the world’s a stage, true, you have to remember that you also always need an audience. If Israel isn’t really as polarized and divided and hate-filled as opposition politicians claim – and it’s surely far from being the United States under Donald Trump – then how did they nevertheless manage to create the appearance that it was?

The answer is that to ignite a political state of emergency, you don’t need real polarization. It’s enough to have ongoing social disintegration – a disintegration whose background is the determination, persistence and focus of one side set against the weakness and lack of cohesiveness of the other side.

No civil war is bubbling up in Israel, but that’s not thanks to the existence of a broad consensus or a common denominator. It’s because the controversial questions and the big decisions – like the fate of the territories, the future of ultra-Orthodox autonomy, the balance between religion and state and the distribution of wealth – haven’t been on the agenda for many years.

Issues like the status of the High Court of Justice and the “left-wing” media only bother groups that are much smaller and more distinct than they seem. Even the conflict between the pro-Bibi and anti-Bibi camps isn’t reminiscent, in either its intensity or its scope, of the schism during the 1990s.

So what do we have? More than anything, fatigue, apathy, a loss of faith in institutions and in the chance to effect change, a deep confusion and a severe deterioration in the quality of public debate – and as derivatives, a blurring of concepts and the lack of any overall orientation. All this is the fruit of the Bibi-ism of the last decade and a half.

This is an ideal platform for an effective propaganda campaign and for a populism that fakes nonexistent moods for its own benefit. And it turns out that’s enough to topple a government.

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