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Monday, September 01, 2008

Why Israel's Left hates Netanyahu

On Sunday, I wrote a post in which I explained why I believe that opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu would want to have bloggers evaluate his messages rather than Israel's mainstream media. I mentioned an article that I thought appeared in 1999 in which Haaretz's Ari Shavit why Israel's media - really why its leftist elites generally - hate Netanyahu. Dan S. found the article for me. It's from 1997. It's as relevant and timely today as it was nearly eleven years ago when it was written. I am going to reproduce part of it below, but I must urge you to read the whole thing.
One possible answer: Benjamin Netanyahu unravels the stitching that binds our obligations as members of a democracy and our obligations as peace supporters.

A few words of explanation are in order: One of the biggest problems of the Israeli democratic model is the problem of dual roles played by its elite class. The same people who fill the ranks of the peace elite also fill the ranks of the democratic-process elite. Yet because these two publics draw from the same demographic pool - those who are committed to the idea of peace in its radical-dovish version are the same journalists, jurists and academics who dictate civil and judicial norms - a situation has evolved whereby the members of one particular camp are forced to wear three or four hats: they play on one of the competing teams, they serve as the referee for the competing groups, and they report and comment on the game between the competing teams.

This scenario is fundamentally unethical and untenable. The only way that we members of the elite can withstand the challenge is by building a sort of internal Great Chinese Wall, which would maintain an absolute division between our contrasting missions. Here and there, attempts have been made to build this Great Wall. However, since the 1992 elections - since we began to feel that the majority was on our side, since we began to think we had a chance to throw our opponents onto the trash heap of history - all the lines of demarcation have been blurred. Instead of constituting a normative elite we have become just another one of the savage tribes inhabiting this land. Step by step, we have lost the ability of self-criticism, lost any sense of good taste and shame. We no longer hesitate to use whatever influence we can muster as referees, reporters and commentators to influence the results of the game in our favor. We will do whatever it takes - Chinese Wall be damned - to ensure our final victory. To vanquish, once and for all, the Sons of Darkness on the opposing team.

Yet despite these efforts - despite our determination not to hold an open democratic referendum on the question of peace, opting instead to make it a retroactive vote on facts that had already been set in motion - the moment of truth came. And when the long-overdue plebiscite on the peace process was finally held on May 29, 1996, the Israeli public told us no. The Israeli public said Netanyahu.

Thus, for us, for the enlightened elite, since the morning of May 30, we have been forced to contend with a situation we could not control. On the one hand, wearing our hat as the democratic elite, we well understood that the people had had their say. And the word of the people is final. As members of a democracy, we knew that government policy would reflect the will of the majority.

But on the other hand, when we put on our peace elite hat, it is obvious that we cannot accept the voter's verdict at face value. We expect that despite the decision of the voter, Netanyahu will continue to implement our peace policies. We expect him to betray his and his voters' own sensibilities.

After all, despite the fact that we strut around wearing our liberal plumage, we have no doubts at all regarding the justice of our cause. Like Gush Emunim and Neturei Karta, it is crystal clear to us that our truth is the only authentic truth. And since the questions on the table have to do with peace and war, life and death, we find it unacceptable that they be decided by an Israeli voting public that is, as we all know, not entirely serious and not entirely rational, not entirely secular and not at all white.

The mechanism we have developed to work our way out of this tangle is to work up a psychosis of hatred for the elected prime minister. To hate him and hate his wife and hate his children. And while we revel in this hatred of all things Bibi, we will feel no compunctions as we trample every cultural norm and every basic concept of fairness.

We will convince ourselves that the prime minister is the devil incarnate. That he is an alien being who by some fraudulent scheme seized hold of the reins of power. He murdered and then he seized power.

But there is a deeper motive for the hatred we feel for Benjamin Netanyahu. Here too some background is called for: In the early 90's, and especially the spring and summer of 1992, the autumn and winter of 1993, and the spring and autumn of 1994, we, the enlightened Israelis, were infected with a messianic craze. Almost without noticing it, our peace movement, which had always been so rational and sober, full of phlegmatic reserve, began to whirl itself into an ecstatic Kabbalistic dervish trance. All of a sudden, we believed that the great global changes underway at the end of the millennium were signaling us that the end of the old Middle East was near. The end of history, the end of wars, the end of the conflict. Like the members of any other messianic movement, we decided to hasten the end, and anointed Yitzhak Rabin as our Messiah.

Yitzhak Rabin was a demonstratively un-messianic person. But for that very reason, because of his reserve and his decency, he was just right for the role we carved out for him. No one could ever suspect Rabin of charlatanism. Meanwhile, we began to pitch our tents around him, dancing around and demanding that he perform miracles for us. That he make a Western Europe out of the Middle East. That he fashion us a Norway out of the Land of Israel and Palestine. Yitzhak Rabin stood there, blushing and embarrassed, knowing that there was something a little suspicious about all the commotion being made, that our apocalyptic prognostications had gone too far. Yet the reveling around Baba Rabin went on. He let it continue, not wanting to disappoint us. He saw how excited we were, and thought why not? Maybe it will work.

But even then, back in the autumn of 1993, Netanyahu was the naysayer. The heretic. Even then he did not raise his voice and did not yell. He'd travel alone from village to village and town to town, repeating in his cool, unemotional voice and stern gaze that we were intoxicated with the fantasy. That we were humiliating ourselves, making a joke of ourselves.

In the beginning, during the first months, Netanyahu did not bother us too much. He was marginal, practically an eccentric. He was a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it.

But gradually, it became clear that the scenario was not as straightforward as we had believed it would be, that there was something a bit more complex going on here, that there were still loose strings having to do with identity, history and culture, fundamental existential problems. Benjamin Netanyahu began to annoy us more and more. The more reality pushed aside our ecstatic mirage of the oasis in the desert, which had enraptured us to the point of sensory overload, the more Benjamin Netanyahu annoyed us. To the point that when reality finally rushed in, when terrorism struck and Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and we found ourselves once again part of the cruel and complex history from which we thought we had extricated ourselves, it was obvious to us who was to blame. The naysayer was to blame. The Judas Iscariot was to blame. The murderer of the Messiah was to blame.
Again, please read the whole thing.

Two other comments. First, when Netanyahu won that election in 1996, it was Israel's version of Dewey v. Truman. For months, all the polls that were published said that Shimon Peres would win, and the night of the election, then-Labor party minister Uzi Baram got up and thanked the Arab voters for putting Peres over the top. Around 6:00 AM the following morning, the numbers started to change. By 9:00 it was clear that Netanyahu had won. At the time I worked in the government. The three of us who were happy that Netanyahu had won had to hide it. Everyone else was walking around with the same faces as the morning after Rabin was assassinated. It was as if their lives had been snatched from them.

The morning after that election, Rabin's widow said that she felt like leaving the country after seeing Netanyahu win the election. The following Friday, on his popular morning radio show on Arutz Sheva (which actually broadcast on the radio then), the late Adir Zik z"l (of blessed memory) urged his readers to leave suitcases outside Mrs. Rabin's door. Dozens of suitcases were piled there. Netanyahu's win in the elections was such a release to the right.

Second comment: For those of you who found some of my Rabin assassination posts over the past couple of years to be incomprehensible, please go back and re-read them in light of the full Shavit article. They might start to make more sense to you.


At 10:47 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Incidentally, I knew that Netanyahu had won. All you needed to look at were the exit polls for the party votes. They told the real story.

At 12:56 AM, Blogger Robyn said...

Though I was disappointed with Netanyahu at Wye and since, his win in '96 was one of those moments when I remember exactly where I was when I heard the final results: Yehud, the sun setting, a sense of relief that I sensed was being felt all over Israel though maybe not by everyone ;-)


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