Israel – the good Guys

By Gideon Levy, as republished by
Tlaxcala, 17 August 2017. How did Netanyahu become a right-wing
ultranationalist, while all the good people remained in the enlightened left?

Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev
and coalition whip David Bitan at a Likud faction meeting, January 3, 2017.
Credit Emil Salman

could you leave us, haver. Two figures, writing in Haaretz this week, lamented
the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu from their ranks, like people lamenting the
disappearance into Mea She’arim of a newly religious friend. After all, they
just about grew up with Netanyahu; how could he do this, haver, disappear
together with David Bitan and Miri Regev at the Tel Aviv Convention Center.
Media personality Razi Barkai, writing
in Haaretz Hebrew edition Aug. 14, served with Netanyahu in a paratroops
brigade, and each had a brother who died in the course of his military service.
Barkai knows that Netanyahu would rather read Haaretz and talk with its
publisher, Amos Schocken, than spend time with right-wing rapper The Shadow or
with Elor Azaria. Chemi Shalev (Aug. 16) can’t understand how such an educated,
intelligent man, person, who could have been an internationally respected
statesman, draws his fans from the mindless rabble. Really, Netanyahu, why did
you betray them?
Barkai’s and Shalev’s fundamental
assumption is that deep down, Netanyahu is one of them, he shares their
opinions, and has simply sold his soul to the right-wing devil for a fistful of
votes. They are sure he did so only in order to survive. Their subtext, even if
they would deny it, is: How could an advanced, highly educated Ashkenazi like
him (and like them), who grew up in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood and
graduated from MIT, connect with these untamed Mizrahi Likudniks? This is naked
Israeli identity politics. How did Netanyahu become a right-wing
ultranationalist, while all the good people remained in the enlightened left?

These two very worthy colleagues wish that Netanyahu were like them. Then the
“tragedy,” as Shalev calls it, would not have happened. Mapainiks at heart,
they think that Netanyahu too should have been a Zionist leftist, advocating a
two-state solution and holding neverending peace talks like the revered Shimon
Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. They cannot conceive the inconceivable, that Netanyahu
actually believes in what he’s doing.

Maybe Netanyahu is a phenomenal success story who’s managed to turn Israel
upside down, just as he wanted to, precisely as he predicted. Maybe he even
decided to pay a personal price by dispensing with the admiration of Barkai,
Shalev and their ilk, who are like him in their origins, in order to realize
his beliefs. Perhaps he is admirable precisely because of his willingness to
sacrifice for his revolution — corrupting, dangerous, irreversible, oppressive,
destructive and damned, but the revolution he wanted, for which he was elected
and in which he believes with all his heart.

Perhaps his father would have preferred the company of philosophers Gershom
Scholem, Nathan Rotenstreich and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, but forwent their company
in favor of cleaving to his opinions. Perhaps the ostracized son decided to pay
the same personal price as his ostracized father for his opinions. Zionist
leftists are unfamiliar with this: They pay no price for their opinions. In
their minds they are enlightened, not like the benighted right.

It’s possible that Netanyahu would
genuinely prefer to spend an evening with Barkai and Shalev than with Likud MKs
Oren Hazan and David Amsalem. Perhaps he’d also prefer secular people like
himself over the sea of wearers of tiny kippot with whom he’s surrounded
himself. But Netanyahu made a choice: the establishment of an ultra-nationalist
Jewish state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, in return for
losing the respect of his old friends. One can respect him for his sacrifice.
He genuinely believes the only way Israel can exist is to establish an
apartheid state.

Perhaps the man that so many here love to hate, who is worthy of this hatred on
account of his path, also deserves respect for what he is willing to sacrifice
for his opinions. It would have been easier for Netanyahu to be Isaac Herzog.
Much more talented than the erstwhile Labor Party head, world leaders would
have fawned on him and columnists, including Barkai and Shalev, would have
extolled his virtues. More peace or justice would not have come of this; his
old buddies have never done anything to end the occupation. But they talked
more prettily about peace than Netanyahu, and had friends who were more
educated than David Bitan.