(April 15, 2019 / JNS) Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory this time round is greater than his previous four. It is a victory of epic, almost biblical, proportion. I said it at the start of the campaign: Netanyahu will be facing off against all the institutions of the old elite: the legal system, most of the media, academia, the defense establishment and even the old socialists rose from the dead in the form of the Blue and White Quartet to defeat him. And no one could. “Jacob was left all alone, and there a man wrestled with him until daybreak. … He could not overpower Jacob” (Genesis 32:25-26). Only this time, Benjamin wasn’t alone; he was surrounded by masses who were grateful for his work on behalf of the people and the country and defended him with their votes.
The biblical associated that rattled around in my head overnight, as the final results were tallied, was “So the people ransomed Jonathan so that he did not die” (I Samuel 14:45). In Israel’s war against the Philistines, King Saul made his soldiers swear not to eat until they were in pursuit of the enemy. His son Jonathan, who in a daring mission caused the Philistines to flee and brought about the start of their defeat, did not know about the oath and tasted some honey he found in the forests. Long story short, Saul required his son to die, but the people would not accept that purist approach; Jonathan had done so much to redeem the people, and even if some legal scholar or another decided he had broken the letter of the law, he could not be harmed because of that purism: “Then the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people ransomed Jonathan so that he did not die.”
I suggest not holding out hope for introspection by the media and the left in Israel over the result of this election. I’ve been writing for about 25 years, and I’ve learned that no one is truly listening to our deepest arguments. We are just statistics that bother them in their imagined battle to set things right and reenact the glory of the socialist governments over the years. For them, the past few decades are just a historical blip, and very soon now, in some election or the one that comes after it or even the current one, the public will wake up and submit to the daily propaganda of a small group, important in its own eyes, who truly believes it holds a monopoly on wisdom and morality and judging reality.
There is no possibility of introspection for people who are convinced with every fiber of their being that they are simply a conduit for the strict reporting of reality as it is while in fact they are political activists like everyone else. There is no situation in which journalists who are convinced that they are liberal and democratic whereas in fact their liberalism is unilateral and does not apply to anyone who disagrees with them will look inward. There is no possibility that people will look inward when they still espouse the Oslo doctrine when time after time reality contradicts their basic assumptions and still they fail to learn modesty when it comes to history. There is no situation of introspection for those who bring only right-wing politicians and almost never host right-wing intellectuals—to the point where it becomes an undeclared boycott—on their programs, which are otherwise full of spokespeople for the left from both academia and the cultural realm. The answer is not to integrate into existing entities, but to establish alternatives.
The day Ehud Barak won the 1999 election, journalist Amnon Abramovich stated that “Benjamin Netanyahu is off the stage of history without leaving any mark, without any real achievement; he will be a footnote, if anything, in the history of Israeli prime ministers.” Abramovich never learned his lesson. This week, after the result was announced, he said, “I don’t believe that Benjamin, the son of Benzion Netanyahu, will be turning the Prime Minister’s Residence into a sanctuary city.” I don’t believe it either, what Abramovich is saying. I don’t believe that his journalistic work is based on moral considerations. More than other journalists, he is a political player identified with the opposing camp. The politicization of his work paved the way for many who came after him to behave the same way. In contrast to what he says, the institution of political immunity isn’t a “sanctuary city,” but is designed to honor the voters’ decision and allow the elected leader to work for the sake of the people and the nation, without a bunch of functionaries making his life a misery and sticking spokes in the wheels.
Even before all the votes were counted, the State Attorney’s Office rushed to leak that the attorney general was going to inform the prime minister that there could be difficulties with bringing Shas leader Aryeh Deri into the coalition. In the next few weeks, we’ll witness renewed attacks on Netanyahu by the prosecution and the legal system. There will accordingly be leaks to the media; there is nothing innocent about it, and the purity of government isn’t being scrutinized, but rather the choice of the people. We might have participated in democratic elections this week, but the last word doesn’t lie with the people, but rather with functionaries who have appointed themselves the gatekeepers for the small group that is persecuting Netanyahu. All his great achievements were made with one hand tied behind his back.
The media reflects the positions of a specific elite to which the legal system belongs, and we can’t expect any unusual introspection from them, either. The Supreme Court will continue to control the choice of the citizens and will keep violating the balance between the legislative and executive and judicial branches of government, unless the next government takes steps to change the situation and restore some of the power that was taken away from the people. However, we can certainly expect introspection from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. “Vox populi, vox Dei”: What the people say, goes. The cases in which Netanyahu was allegedly accused hinge on unclear norms and government arrangements that for years went untouched by the legal system, which left them to the public to judge. And the public had its say; after a long campaign of accusations and leaks and indictments, it opted to vote for Netanyahu, to “redeem” him. It would be wrong to undo that and depend on controversial legal interpretation that would harm the public’s vote and their clear choice. We need to restore the public’s faith in the legal system. The law is very clear when it comes to the prime minister: He does not have to resign if indicted. However, Mandelblit could save us that battle.
At the command of “strategic advisers,” the media discourse focused on complaining over “the shallowness of the political campaign,” about how it was going downhill, about how there were no in-depth debates about ideology, just slander. Interesting. When did we last encounter an article from the left that respected the conservative-right worldview and honestly evaluated the achievements of the last few Likud governments? When did we last see a newspaper piece, television editorial, or even an online post on social media that discussed Netanyahu as an ideologist, a leader who was implementing well-thought-out views in accordance with the mandate of the voters who elected him? I tried to remember, and could only come up with a few examples.
A moment after the election results were announced, posts went up that were full of anger toward the residents of the south, who despite the difficult situation in Gaza and the regular harassment by Qassam rockets and arson balloons mostly voted Likud. This sums up the left-wing anger at them: “Don’t complain about your situation anymore.” The underlying assumption is that these people are dumb and unwise, rather than people who have a broad worldview and prefer to look at the big picture in the country, the Middle East, and the world, rather than just seeing the narrow aspect of their clashes with the Arabs in Gaza. This condescension has to do with the years-long sin of arrogance by a certain group among us that never saw the right’s worldview as legitimate.
The insults and the comparisons of Israel’s right-wing government to fascist right-wing governments in Europe and even the neo-Nazi right have become common. We’ve gotten used them. Even on social media, we usually find a lopsided picture of arguments and debate. On the right, an article or remark by the left is posted and people argue about it; on the left,,they mostly talk about the personalities of elected officials on the right and make them the target of abuse. For them, Benjamin Netanyahu is the demon leader, the dark knight, the man whose views must not be discussed but who must receive every insult ever thrown at any leader of our people. How much shame, contempt and jeering toward someone who has devoted his life to making Israel strong, to strengthening its economy, to glorifying its name in the world—a prime minister to whom many Israeli citizens are grateful for his work on their behalf. By insulting him steadily and systematically, his voters and supporters are also being insulted. There is a direct connection between the voters and their elected leader. The public isn’t blind; they understand that the contempt for their leader is effectively contempt for them for continuing to vote for him. And the results reflect that.
The condescension towards the public also has to do with the failure of identity politics. The thought that the public votes for representatives of various sectors of society—Mizrahi Jews, moshavniks, homosexuals, women, Arabs, Ethiopians or Russians—hasn’t proven itself to be true. The vote for the right was for a path and a worldview. On the left, the campaign rested mainly on the identity of the leading candidate from the right; in other words, attacks on Netanyahu and differentiating themselves from him (“Anyone but Bibi”). But an in-depth look, after all the noise has died down, shows that here, too, the voting was for a path and a worldview. The public addresses the ideas that leaders bring with them and less to their societal placement. Aside from the failure of identity politics, we have to admit that demography did play a role here. Ladies and gentlemen of the left, have more children.
After the campaign, after the big disputes, we need to clean off the desk and listen. I’ve talked about the choice of the right being rejected. On the other hand, we must not ignore the impressive phenomenon of the votes for the Blue and White list. Three parties joined forces and won the support of more than a million citizens. Here, too, what the people say goes. The right-wing government should consider ways of cooperating with that important group. And an aside for Yair Lapid: the role of a responsible opposition is not to “make the government’s life miserable.” It is permissible to criticize it harshly, to object, to suggest alternatives. It is also possible to join it and work together for the sake of the people and the nation. Passover is nearly here—our national birthday, when we were born as a people. Let’s remember that when we sit around the seder table.
Lastly, on the night after the election, a verse from Nathan Alterman’s poem “Night of Parking” rang in my head: “Time of war. The image of these things /was the image of wondering sung poetry / Like pulling a thread from candle wax / they will pull the soul of a generation, also in the field sow / To remember, not only for badness, awful days.”
Dror Eydar has been appointed Israeli ambassador to Italy.