The political demise of Benjamin Netanyahu?

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Supporters of Palestinian self-determination and many Jews in Israel and around the world have rejoiced the decision to charge interim Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

The charges have been in the offing since February this year and include such claims as Netanyahu receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to change regulations to favour a particular media group in exchange for favourable press coverage for himself.

The charges have been laid after Netanyahu has failed twice to form a government after inconclusive elections and now his political prospects are fading while Israelis are most likely to go to the polls again in March 2020 in another apartheid election. [Jews are able to vote and Palestinian Israelis (21% of Israel’s population) can also vote but there is no vote for the more than five million Palestinians who do not have Israeli citizenship but have lived under Israeli military occupation and brutal oppression for over 70 years]

What appears to be the looming end of Netanyahu’s political career will be widely celebrated. He has been Prime Minister of Israel since 2009 and has dominated the political landscape with his forceful personality and vitriolic, race-based, nationalistic campaigning.

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In his time as Prime Minister Netanyahu has dragged Israeli politics to the far right through particularly racist campaigns of vilification and demonization of Palestinians.

His hatred of Palestinians has been evident throughout his political career. In 2002 he was caught on camera saying “the way to deal with Palestinians is to beat them up. Not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until its unbearable”.

During the 2016 elections he urged Jewish voters to vote his way because “Arabs (Palestinian Israelis) are going to the polls in droves”.

He has always denied full rights to Palestinian Israelis saying “Israel isn’t a state of all its citizens…Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people…and it alone” and introduced the infamous “nation-state” law in 2018 to confirm first-class citizenship for Jewish Israelis and second class citizenship for Palestinian Israelis.

Two weeks ago, with the prospect of the “Joint List” (Palestinian Israeli parties) supporting Netanyahu’s main rival Benny Gantz, Netanyahu denounced the leaders of the Joint List as a “fifth column,” “supporters of terror” and “an existential threat to the existence of Israel.”

In response the Chair of the Joint List of Palestinian Israeli parties, Ayman Odeh, posted a picture of himself in pyjamas, reading stories to his three children. He captioned it: “At the end of a long day, I’ve got to put these existential threats to sleep!”

It was the perfect putdown to Netanyahu but does nothing to address the vile racism at the heart of Israeli political life.

The surest way to tell if a statement is racist is to reverse the ethnicities and see what it sounds like from the other point of view. For example, if a world leader described Jews as an “existential threat” would that be acceptable? What about “The way to treat Jews is to beat them up. Not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until its unbearable”?

Most of humanity would find such statements utterly repugnant. They would be quite rightly be condemned as vile, racist, anti-Semitic and an invitation to genocide.

So why is it that international leaders did not condemn outright Netanyahu’s “existential threat” speech? Why would our Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern think it was not worth commenting on? They would have spoken loud and clear had the same things been said in relation to Jews so why are Palestinians unworthy of the same respect?

Every case of genocide throughout history has begun with words as Chris Harris, Director of the Holocaust Centre in Wellington reminded us a few weeks back in an opinion piece entitled “History shows why hateful words matter”.

Netanyahu is far from the only Israeli leader to use reckless racist rhetoric like this. Israeli leaders since 1948 have all indulged in victim-bashing in relation to Palestinians.

Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan said Palestinians should be made “to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave – and we shall see where this process leads”.

Last year another former Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, declared that “there are no innocents in Gaza.”

Imagine any other political leader, anywhere in the world, saying that in relation to an entire ethnic community. They would be pilloried and forced to resign in disgrace.

With this political climate in Israel its small wonder that during the most recent Israeli elections the leaders of the leading political parties were competing with each other to see how nasty, brutish and demeaning they could be to Palestinians.

Ayman Odeh reading a story to Netanyahu’s “existential threats”

In recent election campaigns Netanyahu has pledged not only to refuse to negotiate establishment of a Palestinian state but also to annex vast swathes of the West Bank and incorporate these into Israel.

This announcement of the intention to commit a war crime against Palestinians was greeted with stony silence by political leaders in New Zealand and around the world.

The climate of racism and “othering” of Palestinians is why Israeli settlers regularly attack Palestinians and are given armed protection by soldiers while doing so. It is why thousands of Palestinians are dehumanised every day at the numerous checkpoints they face going about their daily lives. It is why Israeli snipers have killed so many unarmed Palestinian civilians – including children and teenagers – taking part in the great march of return protests over the past year.

So while many Jews and Palestinians will celebrate Netanyahu’s political demise he is not the cause of Palestinian suffering. He is just the latest representative of the apartheid state. The overall climate within Israel is so toxic towards Palestinians that there are plenty of others in the wings with racist baggage as bad as Netanyahu.

Take the current crop of Israeli political leaders for example.

Former Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, who has the goal of becoming Israeli Prime Minister one day says “What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people are the enemy?” while her party’s co-leader Naftali Bennet says “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – there’s no problem with that”.

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, who was neck and neck with Netanyahu in the last election is no better. He is portrayed in the Israeli media as a more moderate politician than Netanyahu but he also advocates annexation of Palestinian land into Israel and, as a former army commander, boasted of having bombed parts of the Gaza strip “back to the stone age”.

The most important thing for us to understand is that changing the narrative in Israel towards “loving thy Palestinian neighbour” and moving towards peace and justice in Palestine will not happen if Israel is left to its own devices. It will only be achieved when outside political leaders speak out fearlessly against the rotten, racist politics of the leading Israeli political parties – as some leading Jewish academics and activists are doing – and when the rest of the world brings the sort of enormous pressure on Israel which we did to help end apartheid in South Africa.

The weapon here is BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel. It relies on the people of the world joining hands in solidarity with Palestinians and isolating the vile, racist Israeli regime.

BDS is the only game in town.

9 COMMENTS

  1. BDS has for sometime been focused on the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but given

    1. the declared intent to annex occupied land there into Israel and thus leave the rest as non contiguous Bantustans associated with the subordinated PA
    2. the disparagement of the role of the Arab List in Israeli politics – polls show most Israeli Jews do not want to be governed by any administration dependent on Arab List MK’s for a majority (taking the concept of the Jewish state of Israel into the racist category)

    You may be right about the BDS now being extended to the State of Israel.

  2. Netanyahu is a scumbag of the first order. He’s corrupt and a bigot. He should be dumped in a hole and left there to contemplate his many and varied sins. And Naftali Bennet should probably go and visit a psychiatrist. Killing anyone, Arab or Jew, should be an act of absolute last resort, and the fact he seems to shrug the whole thing off as being business as usual is indicative of a callousness that makes him unfit for public office.

  3. It is good that charges have been laid against Netanyahu.

    I hope, however unlikely, that there is resolution and justice and peace going forward, after the decades of conflict.

    Also tired of it being some sort of secondary political playing field for other politicians like Trump and Blair, which is probably not helping the situation.

    Israel seem to have led the way for the new ‘political assassinations’ without a trial, that are now common by western governments as is the children and other civilians also being killed along side them in the hits.

    Sad that governments have gone backwards in justice and ethics.

  4. I loathe to see any harm meted out to the mentally unstable but this bully Netanyahu deserves his blood nose. I’m also loathe to sanction innocents especially children but the situation is so lopsided in the area (a euphemism for open air prisons, sniper deaths and contrasted living conditions) that boycotting Israeli goods and services has to be a necessary step. The ruling class legislators in America (of course) are trying to prohibit BDS for example by writing anti-BDS clauses into public service employment contracts (and so controlling political opinion and the right to boycott outside of work), by rolling back laws which allow freedom of choice by the public to avoid certain markets (originating from traders in the redneck south and from countries such as apartheid South Africa), by restricting entry into the US by movement supporters, and by ‘legitimising’ the State of Israel and all that has entailed. I look forward to seeing Abby Martin’s doco on Gaza, among the few journalists reporting on the situation.

  5. So why do we not condemn him in the UN and why are we contemplating buying military armaments from this fascist state? C’mon Winston. Answer please.

  6. Israel is easydale for NZers, John. Versus addressing ourselves, let alone ultimate reality. What do you see for that land at best? And isn’t it way behind climate change and resource end for most. There is just that now.

  7. John,
    Completely agree with the overall sentiment of your article.

    What also needs to be recognised is several fold;
    – Unflinching support of the Zionist cause in the West (Not just the US)
    – Overt power on regular display by the Zionist cause in the West (and its hidden influence)

    Israel, as we’re all aware exists at the behest of Western powers. First in rank is the US, which is riddled with vehement Israel bias (i.e. Texas state employees having to sign a declaration in support of Israel??). The ongoing genocide of the Semitic people of Palestine will continue unabated until such time as the racist ideology of Zionism is rooted out of Western politics and its influence diminished to inconsequential ranting of its post colonial heritage.

    BDS is a start, however much much more is required to bring this apartheid state to heel. In all honesty I doubt it will ever happen while the US is master of this planet.

  8. All this just shows that the processes of democracy and the law are alive and well in Israel; which is more than you can say for the adjacent countries, in Gaza and the West Bank where breathtaking corruption both financial and political take place on a daily basis.

    This is why freedom loving people around the world should support Israel. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s WAY better than the alternative!

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