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No One Will Dictate to Us

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, in 2019.
Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, in 2019.Credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

I’ll ask again: What is “Israeli” to me, as our current prime minister famously asked each guest on his erstwhile TV talk show? And I’ll reply again: Yair Lapid. And what is Israeli about Lapid? The unbelievable combination of simultaneous arrogance and self-victimization.

There are arrogant heads of state and there are self-victimizing ones, but it’s hard to come up with any other example of a leader who is both. You need a hefty dose of Israeli chutzpah to be both pitiful in your own eyes and boastful. An example: “No one will dictate our rules of engagement to us, when we are the ones fighting for our lives,” the prime minister said after the United States asked Israel to review Israel Defense Force policy on opening fire.

Lapid’s automatic and generic response had everything: It’s been a long time since we had a wordsmith who can distill all of Israel’s ills into a single, short sentence – just 12 words, in Hebrew. It’s also hard to think of a prime minister striving for change, trying while serving such a short term in office to differentiate himself, yet automatically cleaving to the evil and corrupting declamations of his predecessor. It doesn’t matter if he’s elected or not, no change will come about.

“No one will dictate to us,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to the world’s demand that he stop the war in Ukraine. “No one will dictate to us,” said Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to the demand not to use chemical weapons in his country’s civil war. “No one will dictate to us,” said Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro when the international community called on him to stop cutting down his country’s rain forests. “No one will dictate to us,” said then-Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte in the face of international criticism of his policy of killing drug dealers in his country. All these tyrants can argue that their wicked policies are a domestic matter and that no other country may interfere.

“No one will dictate to us” is an expression of the arrogance of a state that does not accept the existence of an international community and of international institutions, a state that thumbs its nose at them. “No one will dictate to us” is the swagger of a country that believes everything is permitted to it and that no one has the right to restrain it.

Rules of engagement, just like deforestation, are not supposed to be the “domestic” matter of any country. When a state violates customary laws and rules, the world must intervene. Someone has to protect the rain forests, just as someone has to protect defenseless peoples living under an occupation regime, prohibited even from keeping a slingshot for self-defense.

Not only may the international community intervene, it must intervene, and in Israel’s case it’s unfortunate that the world doesn’t intervene more forcefully, since without such interventions there is no world and no international law.

“Only the chief of staff will decide the IDF’s rules of engagement,” added another harbinger of change, Defense Minister Benny Gantz. And what if the chief of staff decides to embark on a mass killing spree? And what if he decides to use prohibited weapons? And what if he decides that it’s permissible to shed Palestinian blood, or the blood of the citizens of other states?

When the IDF kills a respected journalist, an American citizen, what are the Americans supposed to do? Cheer? Show restraint? Continue arming and funding an army that kills its citizens? The United States chose the route of evasion: It is “pressing” Israel to “review its policies,” and even this is too much for the Lapid arrogance. To whom was his condescending response addressed? To the United States, on which Israel depends for everything.

But that wasn’t enough, since we also need a self-victimizing, heart-rending Jewish sigh that is supposed to let us to do anything we please. We are a nation “fighting for our lives.” It’s not the Palestinians, whose blood is shed like water, their rights trampled and lives cheapened, who are fighting for their lives, but the occupier. The prosperous, armed-to-the-teeth Israel, like Goliath crushing David, is the one fighting for its life. The world must stand at attention. To Israel everything is permitted. It’s fighting for its life and no one will dictate to it. Just ask the most liberal prime minister in its history, Yair Lapid.

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