“What are they protesting about? Netanyahu. Only about Netanyahu. Not about anything else. Not about the Occupation, not about the injustices of Zionism and capitalism, and not about the climate crisis,” notes Uri Misgav in his Haaretz article (Oct. 8, 2020). From there, he goes on to explain why Netanyahu is the greatest danger to the State of Israel. Misgav’s anger at Netanyahu is undoubtedly justified, mainly because the latter took the citizens of the country hostage when all he cares about is escaping from justice. Yet hatred of Netanyahu can also dazzle, creating the false impression that his removal will change the situation. It’s as if there is no need for a political alternative. The Occupation is only mentioned as an obstacle on the way to Netanyahu’s removal, and likewise for greedy capitalism and the climate crisis. We must remain focused on the one and only task, which is to overthrow Bibi under the slogan “Leave!”
Later in the article, Misgav admits an interesting and even crucial fact: “Other politicians,” he says, “find it difficult at this stage to join the protest or translate it into electoral momentum. The only one to be strengthened so far is Naftali Bennett.” Misgav’s conclusion is backed by a Channel 12 poll, which shows that Netanyahu has been weakened and would receive only 26 seats, while Bennett’s Yamina (Rightward!) party has been rising and now nets 23.
But the question that needs to be asked is not whether to halt the demonstrations, but whether it is not appropriate to take advantage of the pause between demonstrations to think: Why, when Netanyahu is weakened, is Bennett the only one who benefits? How is this possible, even though he has refrained from encouraging the demonstrations? Why do politicians who do encourage them, participating and defending the right to demonstrate, not earn even one vote? In general, are the demonstrations the primary reason for the weakening of Netanyahu’s status, or is their contribution marginal?
The crucial question seems to be whether Netanyahu’s legal fate and the slogan “crime minister” express the public’s feelings, or whether it is Netanyahu’s failure to deal with the coronavirus crisis which is working against him in the surveys. How is it possible that Yair Lapid, who supports the demonstrations and tries to build on them in his role as leader of the parliamentary opposition, is marching in place, while Bennett, who is unwilling to say a word about Netanyahu’s corruption and who stays aloof from the protests, gains the seats that Benny Gantz lost when he joined the government months ago?
The answer is simple. In contrast to the call adopted by Misgav – “Leave!” – Bennett’s amounts to “Forget the issue of ‘Bibi or no Bibi’!” The public is not interested in politics, it wants livelihood and answers to the health crisis. While Lapid and Misgav are busy with Bibi’s physical presence in the Prime Minister’s office, Bennett is busy with the heart of the matter, and this is not Bibi but the virus. When Lapid and Misgav run from demo to demo and bridge to bridge egging the protesters on, Bennett focuses on the essence. Quite early he recognized the public mistrust in the way the government was handling the epidemic and set up an alternative coronavirus cabinet with experts in economics and medicine. He simultaneously embarked on an extensive public relations campaign for his book “How to Beat an Epidemic”, presenting himself as a master of economics and as one who dealt with the issue as defense minister in the previous term.
Misgav is correct that the public is not interested in the Occupation or the climate crisis. But he errs in asking what the public is really interested in. It turns out that the public is fed up with the “Yes Bibi, no Bibi” debate. Bennett was able to identify this while Misgav has been wasting his energies in shouting against Bibi and in the heroic struggle for the right to protest and defend democracy. The vast majority of the Israeli public has been harmed by the lockdown; those who have lost their jobs or been forced to close their businesses, and those whose children have lost their school year, do not all believe that the immediate danger they face is the loss of democracy. For them, the greatest danger is the fate of their family and the fates of hundreds of thousands of families whose worlds have been destroyed, for which they are holding Bibi accountable.
Equally important – Bennett should not be taken lightly. He is not a “sad joke,” as Misgav casually describes him. Bennett is a man of the far-right, and part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ideological camp. What is happening right now is simple and obvious: the right-wing camp is increasing its power to monstrous proportions, while the liberal opposition, which wants to save democracy, is shrinking and conflicted within itself. Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich advocate an extreme, conservative ideology. They seek a right-wing takeover of the government and the Supreme Court. They are no less a danger to democracy than Netanyahu himself. Uri Misgav may think this is not the time to talk about the injustices of Zionism and the Occupation, but that is not how Bennett and his associates think. They pressured Netanyahu to keep his promise to annex the settlements to Israel, and they do not hide their intention to establish a de facto apartheid regime. Is Bennett really less dangerous to democracy than Netanyahu? Does anyone seriously think that his messianic ideas can cure the rift in Israeli society?
The COVID-19 crisis reveals the sickness of Israel on the issues of health, education, welfare and employment that stand at the center of public discourse today. Netanyahu’s socioeconomic policy has left the country exposed to Corona.
While attacking Bibi for sticking to power while accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the older middle-class members of the protest movement also yearn to restore “the country of yesteryear” as it was before he abducted it. However, the pandemic is forcing all countries to understand that the pre-Corona world will not return. Yet the protesters seem to be living in a different cosmic time. Some even claim that the virus is nothing more than an invention that helps Bibi in his attempt to escape the law, an echo of Trump’s claim that the pandemic is an invention that helps Democrats. It is no wonder that an extreme right-wing messianic figure is gaining popularity, while the protesters continue to pat themselves on the back because they’ve managed to defy Netanyahu and demonstrate themselves to death for nothing.
These days, a fateful political campaign is taking place in the United States, with far-reaching consequences for Israeli politics and the fate of Benjamin Netanyahu. Amazingly, even in the United States the COVID-19 crisis is at the center of public debate, and there, as here, it will ultimately decide the fate of Donald Trump. The American president has proven himself to be a disaster for his country. America leads the world in the number of dead and sick, revealing its weakness. Unlike Bibi, Trump has continued to belittle the pandemic even after he, along with a significant team from the White House, contracted the virus.
Trump is indeed a danger to America and to the world, yet the Democratic Party did not settle for the slogan “anyone but Trump”, adopting instead the slogan “Black Lives Matter” together with the Green New Deal. Democrats are rushing to power precisely because they have adopted a social and green program. They understand it is not enough to overthrow Trump. They know they must build a new reality that will prevent the growth of a new and even more dangerous Trump in the future.
It is not enough to call on Bibi to leave. It is much more important to build a new reality, in which there will be no room for Bibi, Bennett and the like, and such a reality will not be built if we ignore the fate of the Palestinians, the socioeconomic situation of Israeli society, and the country’s contribution to the climate crisis. The right is empowered by the inability of the opposition to pose a political and social alternative, although the current crisis is an opportunity to address these issues.
Without resolving them, Israeli society will continue to march in place, the reduction of democratic freedoms will continue, racism will deepen, as will social gaps. It’s time to connect to the world, to change the channel, and to understand that it isn’t Bibi who is the root of the problem, but all those issues—the Occupation, climate change, and the rest—that Uri Misgav and his friends are putting off while crusading against him.