The nonsensical scandal that erupted after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shouted at a political activist who interrupted him while he was speaking in Kiryat Shmona is an interesting lesson in the political psychology of the left.
Within moments, a minor incident became a watershed moment. Based on a single sentence, people are trying to draw sweeping conclusions about the prime minister’s attitude towards the periphery. Here, they’re saying, the cat’s out of the bag, and we’ve seen the real Netanyahu: He is contemptuous of the periphery, he doesn’t care about poor cities. A whole cabal of opinion-makers on the left, from media figures to Knesset members, is piggybacking on the incident and smiling in anticipation of an early election—we caught him!
This failure of reasoning, this hasty and scattered generalization—as if scolding a noisy political activist if proof that the needs and welfare of an entire socio-economic sector are being systematically ignored—is ridiculous. But what’s worse is the speed with which the propagandists on the left rushed to exploit the opportunity to stir up trouble between Netanyahu and his supporters. Like unpopular junior high school boys, they wait at recess for the one who was just mocked by the popular students and try to bring him over to their side.
“You see, Bibi doesn’t like you,” Twitter activists nagged Netanyahu supporters. “You admire him, and he doesn’t take any notice of you. He doesn’t care about you.”
This laughable tactic has not proved particularly effective. Not only because it’s silly and transparent, but also because it rests on the simplistic view that Netanyahu supporters love and admire the prime minister, and in return, expect him to demonstrate empathy, warmth or affection.
In their imaginary political universe, the idea of a warm, paternal leader who knows how to seduce residents of the periphery and Mizrahi Jews with nice words that strike right at the heart of a traditional family culture is part of Likud DNA. So, they conclude, if they can prove to the “Bibi-ites” that Netanyahu doesn’t care about them, they will feel betrayed, realize that “Likud is screwing them,” and jump ship and join the enlightened.
How simplistic, how paternalistic. When will the opinionated left understand that support for Netanyahu is not based on feelings of inferiority, but on agreement with his diplomatic, economic and political ideas? When will they realize that Netanyahu’s supporters become angry at him when he deviates from his political path, not when he is caught showing impatience with an activist, a completely human moment, just as he was grieving the death of his longtime attorney Yaakov Weinroth?
Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn recently upset the left when he raised a moral dilemma of whether Netanyahu should be forgiven for alleged corruption if he pursues a peace deal with the Palestinians. The right saw that as an attempt by the leftist media to lobby the political leadership by coddling it in the media.
I don’t think it was. The opposite: I am convinced that Benn brought up an important point for public debate.
It might cause the left to understand that if it is capable of “sucking up” suspicions of serious corruption in exchange for Israeli territorial concessions, then the other side can base its support for Netanyahu on its political worldview, which no stories about recycled bottles, ice-cream, the prime minister’s dog or even a confrontation with a protester can suppress.
Dr. Eitan Orkibi is a senior sociology and anthropology lecturer at Ariel University.