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From Natalie Portman to Iran, the Telltale Signs That Israel May Have a Loose Screw

Hannah Arendt noted that insanity is a prerequisite to imposing totalitarian rule

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 15, 2018.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 15, 2018. Credit: \ POOL/ REUTERS
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Thank God for Twitter. Were it not for the social media giant’s decision to suspend Member of Knesset Bezalel Smotrich’s account, his tweet clamoring for Palestinian teen provocatrice Ahed Tamimi to be shot – preferably in the knees – might have gone virtually unnoticed. The total lack of political reaction to an Israeli legislator’s call for Israel Defense Forces soldiers to commit what is essentially a war crime was not only shameful: It provided yet another sign – one of many – of the accelerating spread of lunacy in Israel’s public domain.

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For what was the hysterical Israeli reaction to Natalie Portman’s decision to boycott the Genesis Prize ceremony if not a manifestation of mass madness? Inside their cocoon, Israelis may view Likud MK Oren Hazan’s call to strip Portman of her Israeli citizenship as par for the course. They can dismiss Homeland Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s inclusion of a “Star Wars” analogy in his written protest to Portman as harmless if somewhat juvenile humor. And they may be indifferent to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s outrageous assertion that Portman’s decision “borders on anti-Semitism.”

For outside observers, however, all of these were telltale signs that Israel’s screws are loosening.

Not to mention “Culture Minister” Miri Regev’s ludicrous management of the traditional Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony, which included an ugly public spat over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would address the event, the publication of a supposed last-minute agreement reached with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and then the premeditated and flagrant violation of the deal, for all of Israel to see.

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Or Netanyahu’s wacko decision to convene a dramatic press conference in which he heaped praise on an agreement reached with the United Nations on Israel’s asylum seekers, only to change his mind within a few short hours while depicting the same agreement as terrible, possibly anti-Semitic and in any case the devil’s work of thugs from the New Israel Fund.

In such a loony environment, it’s unclear whether one can safely assume that decisions on more critical issues are being taken on some island of rationality. Is the coalition’s onslaught on the High Court of Justice a reasonable position or a manifestation of destructive psychosis? Is it really logical for Iran-obsessed Netanyahu to press Trump to renege on the nuclear deal, notwithstanding international opposition and despite the risk of regional war? Is it normal for the Israeli defense minister to directly threaten Russia, as Avigdor Lieberman did on Tuesday, as if Vladimir Putin were a military nonentity like Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas?

One can ascribe the outbreak of lunacy to the paranoia of a prime minister trying to evade criminal indictment or to the cumulative effects of 50 years of denying an occupation that exists right under Israel’s nose, but the symptoms aren’t just local. Ever since Donald Trump took over the White House, most of the world has to pinch itself on a regular basis just to make sure that Trump’s outrageous tweets are part of reality, and not some nightmare that recurs, a la “Groundhog Day,” over and over again.

The only question remaining is whether we are dealing with a collective virus or with a malady that is being spread intentionally, with malice aforethought. Insanity, after all, is one of the prerequisites for imposing totalitarian rule, as Hannah Arendt wrote. “Totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself,” she observed.

Arendt also dispels the illusion, so widespread on the Israeli left, that a day will come when the public will inevitably grow weary and reject a regime’s imposed dementia.

Even when it’s clear to one and all that a leader is disseminating fantasies and falsehoods, Arendt noted half a century before Bibi’s fans deemed him infallible, the public won’t reject him, but on the contrary, admire him even more. For his or her fans, their leader’s distortions, delusions, forgeries and fabrications only provide further confirmation, as if any is needed, of the dictator’s “superior tactical cleverness.”

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