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Decades From Now, Israel Might Finally Grasp What Netanyahu Has Wrought

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters after the March 2021 election.
Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters after the March 2021 election.Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

I put down Assaf Inbari’s new book, “The Red Book,” sunk in gloomy thoughts. Not all readers are familiar with the main characters, three leaders of the Israeli left with impressive résumés: Meir Ya’ari from the Hashomer Hatzair movement, Yitzhak Tabenkin from the Ahdut Ha’avoda party, and Moshe Sneh, who started out as a mainstream Zionist before turning to communism and Stalinism.

Only 70 years ago, Ya’ari and Sneh believed in Joseph Stalin and socialist justice with all their hearts. Today, would they be ashamed of the things they said in praise of Stalinism with its antisemitism and show trials?

I admit that my sad thoughts weren't about Ya'ari, Tabenkin and Sneh, who contributed a lot to the establishment of the state. Inbari doesn't write about David Ben-Gurion, but in retrospect we can see how right he was when he targeted the establishment of the state rather than obsessions with ideology.

But I wondered, what does all this say about us? What would happen if we could wake up in 70 years and realize that we erred, that we focused on things we shouldn’t have paid attention to?

I wondered if in the distant future Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and even President Isaac Herzog would realize that by ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during Joe Biden's visit they missed a rare opportunity. I wondered what would have happened if Lapid had told the U.S. president to tell the Saudis that we were ready to talk to the Palestinian Authority without delay, even if an Israeli election was imminent, and maybe precisely because it was imminent.

Would it only be possible in the distant future to understand that immediate concerns sidelined Israel’s main problem, whether Israel is led by Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir or the center-left camp?

It’s said that principled positions are more justified than more-temporary ones that depend on particular actions or inaction. When Benjamin Netanyahu is a pensioner, I wonder what he'll think about his support for “shaking up the court system” – for politicizing it and thereby destroying it to its core. How will he and his followers be judged by history after turning Israel into a different kind of country, not the democracy dreamed of by its founders?

We may assume that all of us, not only Netanyahu, hold mistaken ideas. But history exposes not only people who have made mistakes but people who have deliberately misled others.

Netanyahu knows full well that when Lapid decided to form a government with United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas, he wasn't joining “antisemites and supporters of terror.” Still, he believes that incitement is an effective tool in an election campaign. In this way, Netanyahu knowingly stokes the alienation between Jews and Arabs, all for the sake of retaining power. Would he understand 70 years from now the damage he has wrought on his country?

I took one thing from Inbari’s book, which I'll try to apply. No one should be absolutely sure they're right; there should always be doubts. Let me add in the same spirit that there's a chance we’ll be sorry when Netanyahu goes, with our tomorrows replete with days of prayer and memorial rallies for Meir Kahane, with TV channels hosting experts on his philosophy so that his praises can be sung.

The course of the future is unknown to us. But we're charting its direction.

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